Shaking the Habit
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17 Tips for Dining Out on a Low-Salt Diet

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Shaking the Habit
designer491/istockphoto

SHAKING THE HABIT

Whether you're on a doctor-prescribed low-salt diet or just want to cut down on your sodium, choosing from the myriad of food options can be tricky. As Bay Area nutritionist Carly Wertheim reminded us, "Cooking allows you to directly control the amount of sodium you are consuming," so "if low-sodium is truly the priority, home cooking will always be your best bet." But, sometimes you need a quicker lunch option or a nice evening out or a breakfast on the go. Whatever the reason, we have you covered. Read on for 17 tips for eating out on a low-sodium diet.

Related:19 Places Where Diabetics Can Safely Eat Out

Pizza Inn
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KNOW THE 'SALTY SIX'

The American Heart Association has a "Salty Six" list of foods that contribute the most sodium to the average American diet. Wertheim elaborates, "You may be surprised by the foods that make the list: breads and rolls, pizza, sandwiches, cold cuts and cured meats, soup, and burritos and tacos." The list also recommends ways to cut down on sodium within these categories.

McDonald's Order More McNuggets
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LIMIT FAST FOOD

In general, fast food is the worst option for those looking to avoid sodium. Holland Matheson, a Bay-Area nutrition specialist warns that these "quick meals," produced "in bulk ahead of time" are tricky because they're "injected with sodium additives to increase shelf life." Yikes. So, Wertheim says, "Salads are probably going to be your best bet." Also, nutritional information about fast food is readily available; don't ignore it.

Related:These 20 Cheeseburgers Have More Than 1,000 Calories

Find a Hot Dog Stand Near You!
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SALTY MEATS

Matheson cautions, "If your meats are smoked, cured, or processed, you can bet they have a lot of sodium injected into it for added flavor." Wertheim elaborates, "Avoid lunch meats, sausage, bacon and hot dogs. Choose freshly cooked chicken, turkey, or fish instead."

Marinated Olives
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SALTY NON-MEATS

Meat isn't the only salt bomb, though. Vegetarians and fans of condiments should keep an eye out. "While delicious, pickles, olives, sauerkrauts, and other fermented foods are often high in sodium as well," Wertheim says.

Go for Plants
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GO FOR PLANTS

But, in general, plant-based foods will have less sodium than animal-based foods. Think veggies, whole grains, fruits, legumes, raw nuts, and seeds. Wertheim explains, "Not only are plant-based foods naturally low in sodium, they contain potassium, which helps to balance sodium levels in the body. Sodium and potassium are like two peas in a pod. They work together to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Research supports the synergistic impact of lowering sodium and increasing potassium for fighting hypertension or heart disease." She cautions, though, "Check with your doctor before raising potassium levels, as it can be harmful to those with impaired kidney disease or heart failure, or taking certain medications."

Related:15 Free Ways to Protect Your Heart

Whole is Healthier
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WHOLE IS HEALTHIER

No matter where you're dining, seek out whole foods for your health. Wertheim says, "Sodium is highest in processed foods and fast foods. Food manufacturers add salt to enhance flavor and create that feeling of 'Oh I just want one more bite.' The opposite of a processed food is a whole food — a food that is as close to the way nature made it as possible."

Related:26 Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget

Snack Smarter
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SNACK SMARTER

So, when you're hungry between meals, and go to your local coffee shop for a hot beverage and a snack, less-processed foods is better. "Try a whole piece of fruit, like an apple, pear, or banana with a small handful of raw, unsalted nuts or seeds. The fat and protein from the nuts and seeds will help you feel fuller longer, and they have a crunch!" Wertheim recommends.

Oatmeal
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BREAKFAST BETTER

This guideline can be used for every meal. If you're dining out for breakfast, "Rather than choose a muffin or bacon egg sandwich, try oatmeal, plain eggs, or a smoothie," Wertheim suggests.

Where to Go
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WHERE TO GO

Even with fast food aside, some restaurants will be easier to navigate for those who are trying to keep their sodium intake down. "Look for more farm-to-table restaurants that keep the menu simple," Matheson says. If a restaurant is proud of their quality of ingredients, they often will keep things simpler, and not as heavily seasoned.

Watch for Salty Seasoning
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WATCH FOR SALTY SEASONING

If you're eating at a made-to-order restaurant, communication is key. Tell your server that you are on a low-sodium diet and request that no salt be added to your food. Matheson recommends, "Try and ask for modest seasoning and keep it as plain as possible." Wertheim agrees, "Tell them that you'd appreciate fresh herbs or dried spices as seasonings to your food in place of salt."

Steamed Frozen Vegetables
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PREPARATION IS KEY

Even if you order a plate of veggies for dinner, be careful that you're ordering veggies prepared in the simplest manner. "Vegetables should be raw, grilled or steamed," Matheson states.

Be Clear and Polite
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BE CLEAR AND POLITE

As you are ordering, start a friendly dialogue with your server on the options — what would they recommend for a low-sodium diet? As Matheson says, "When we eat out at restaurants, we're unsure of all the ingredients in our foods and ingesting many unknowns." So, let the experts do the work. Ask questions on the best menu items, and available substitutions. Check in on substitutions that you've had before, even if they aren't immediately offered. "When it comes to fine dining, most likely they will be able to accommodate your requests," she goes on to say.

Low-Salt Lunch Tricks
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LOW-SALT LUNCH TRICKS

If you're at a fast-casual spot for lunch, with customizable bowls and salads, it's easy to optimize flavor without getting too sodium-laden. "Utilize different textures make your brain feel more satisfied," Wertheim says. "Crunch goes a long way!" Try nuts and seeds in salads, or raw, whole veggies. Avoid cheese and processed meats, or at least keep them to a minimum.

Let Your Palate Travel the World
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LET YOUR PALATE TRAVEL THE WORLD

At your favorite lunch spot, don't be afraid to go for international flavors. Wertheim recommends, "Try cumin, paprika, oregano, and lime for a Latin twist or basil, parsley, garlic, and lemon for something more Mediterranean. These global flavor profiles will help keep your meals interesting and satisfying while on a low-sodium diet."

Sideline the Sauces
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SIDELINE THE SAUCES

Ask for sauces on the side, wherever possible, or just avoid them. Matheson reiterates, "Try and limit your sauces, like soy sauce or salad dressings. Instead, sprinkle lemon juice for added flavor." Wertheim recommends, "Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, or a splash of vinegar for acidity. The sour flavor adds a high note to foods, brightening flavor." Instead of salad dressing, you can always ask for oil and vinegar on the side.

Sidestep the Side Dishes
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SIDESTEP THE SIDE DISHES

Your entree isn't always the sodium culprit. Keep an eye on those sides too. Rather than fries, bread, or chips, ask for a piece of fruit or a salad.

Portion Control Is Key
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PORTION CONTROL IS KEY

While the experts have many wonderful recommendations for simple, lower-sodium substitutions, sometimes it's a special occasion and you just need a dang burger. Consider splitting it with your future self — ask the server to serve you half and box up the rest for later. Then you get all your favorite flavors, but fewer grams of sodium.