Four Myths About a Low-Sodium Diet

Since I’ve started trying to eat a low sodium diet (January 2010), I’ve encountered some of the same complications I’m sure every new dieter encounters around social situations. For me, one of the more exhausting things is fending off the suggestions and recommendations people make when they’re trying to be helpful, but actually have no idea how sodium works. Some of the myths I’d like to dispel:

Vegetarian Food Must Be Good For You!

People keep suggesting vegetarian restaurants to me, as if meat-free means sodium free. Actually, people can add just as much sauce and salt to vegetarian options as they can to meaty ones. For example, there’s an excellent vegetarian Asian fusion restaurant in NYC called Wild Ginger, and suggesting to someone on a low sodium diet that she try to eat their “Sweet And Sour Protein” is just not the way to keep those milligrams low.

Indian Food Is Low In Sodium!

False. Just false. I love me some Indian food (I lived in the UK for four years and developed a taste for curry like you would not believe), but when I look at some of the mixes available on the shelf, they contain hundreds, if not thousands, of milligrams of sodium per serving. Throw in some nice fluffy naan bread (white bread is a huge culprit when it comes to inadvertent sodium intake) and you’re ready to elevate your BP by at least a few points.

Diet Foods Are Good For You!

Actually, when comparing products, I’ve found a number of diet foods that actually contain more sodium than their non-diet alternatives! The only theory I have on this is that the sodium must be added to make up the flavor of the cardboard-tasting no-fat alternatives, but my feeling on this is also that I’d rather eat less of a natural food – I find it far more satisfying – than something that tastes of fake chemicals.

Try Some Cereal!

Sure, some cereals – oatmeal, for example – can be part of a healthy, low-sodium diet. You know what really can’t be? Most of the cereals on the shelf, and most of the cereals people have offered me in the hopes of getting a little snack in. I know it’s cheap, I know it lasts a long time, I know it’s easy to offer people a bowl of cereal with milk (which also has sodium in it), but nine times out of the ten the cereals people offer have loads of sugar and sodium added to them. Even cereals that advertise as being low sodium are suspect, here, since “low sodium” only means that one serving has an acceptable amount of sodium in it. Are you really just eating half a cup of that cereal? And does the milk push it over the “low sodium” limit?

In the end, one of the more exhausting parts of eating a low sodium diet, or trying to, is fending off the well-intentioned suggestions of friends, relatives and co-workers. It’s hard to do this because while people really do mean well, the suggestions above (which are all suggestions I’ve had made to me over the last few months) just aren’t helpful, and particularly in the case of the Indian food, just leave me wanting what I know I can’t have. If you’re reading this now and you do have a friend or relative who’s on a low sodium diet, here are some helpful suggestions you can make when they start getting puckish:

- Fresh fruit is always a great option for snacks.

- A plain salad (no croutons, oil and vinegar dressing, no cheese) with plenty of vegetables chopped over the top

- Unsalted raw nuts

They don’t sound as immediately gratifying as a toasted bagel (220mg and up) with cream cheese (90mg per serving for Philly Neufchatel, with a serving being, I think, a couple of tablespoons) or a huge bowl of ice cream (actually not too bad, as long as you watch your serving size, with Hagen Daaz five ice cream coming in at around 60mg of sodium per serving?), but there’s no doubt they’ll leave your sodium levels and your stomach satisfied.

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