Of all the minerals in our diet, sodium gets an enormous amount of press coverage. On the one hand, salt, in the form of sodium chloride, is essential for proper bodily functions and for staying hydrated. On the other hand, too much can be quite harmful.
Sodium is everywhere, from high-salt snacks to supermarket shelves to restaurant entrées. But snack time need not be a salty affair.
Eating low sodium snacks is the perfect antidote to the scourge of high sodium everywhere. Read on to learn possible reasons why sodium may be hurting your health, and tasty snacks to try instead.
What Is Sodium?
Sodium chloride is used in food production as one of a number of flavor enhancers, binding agents, and stabilizers. It’s also incorporated into packaged and processed foods as a preservative, because bacteria can’t survive in a high-salt environment.1
Sodium is an essential mineral for life. It’s necessary for proper bodily functions, like balancing fluids in the blood and maintaining healthy blood pressure. It’s also essential for nerve and muscle function.2 And, as an electrolyte along with potassium, it helps the body stay hydrated by providing water to cells.3
Why Is Too Much Sodium Bad For You?
Too much of anything, including salt, isn’t a good thing.
In fact, consuming high-sodium food may potentially lead to a variety of health problems, affecting everything from blood pressure to heart health.4
How Much Is Too Much?
Did you know that 90% of Americans eat an unhealthy amount of excess sodium — about 3,400mg of sodium per day? This is more than double the 1,500mg per day salt intake recommended by the American Heart Association.5
Lowering sodium intake with reduced-sodium snacks is important to avoid potential health issues associated with too much salt intake.
Which Foods Contain The Most Sodium?
To reduce sodium consumption, you first need to know where the sodium in your diet may be coming from. Here is a guide that may help:
- 65% comes from store-bought foods
- 25% comes from restaurant foods
- 10% comes from home cooking6
Here’s the thing: more than 40% of your dietary sodium comes from just 10 types of foods.
- Breads and rolls
- Cold cuts and cured meats
- Burritos and tacos
- Savory snacks (which include chips, popcorn, pretzels, crackers)
- Prepared eggs and omelets7
It’s easy to identify the amount of sodium in a packaged food: Check the Nutrition Facts label on the package. It lists the food’s sodium content in milligrams per serving.8
When Is The Right Time To Cut Back on Sodium?
It’s important to talk to your doctor to get a professional opinion about the amount of sodium in your diet. There are also ways to be proactive about your salt intake. It may be time to switch to lower-sodium foods if:
- You notice that you are eating more than 2,300mg of sodium each day. This is considered a healthy limit according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.9 Again, always check nutrition labels to figure out how much sodium is in the foods you eat.
- You’re experiencing fatigue, weight gain, or bloating10
- You notice that your blood pressure is higher than normal11,12
- You deal with sleep disturbances after a meal high in sodium13
Why Eat Low-Sodium Snacks?
When you eat a healthy range of foods like low sodium snacks, you may help mitigate the risk factors associated with high salt intake. You may also sleep more soundly, translating to more energy during the day.
In particular, eating veggie-based snacks is the perfect way to fill up without the salt.
Tips and Tricks For Low-Sodium Eating
Fortunately, there are plenty of easy-to-implement ways to achieve lower sodium intake. They include:
- Always checking food packaging labels
- Choosing low salt or no-sodium added versions
- Buying fresh fruits and vegetables
- Roasting a skinless chicken or turkey in place of deli meats14
- Making your own sauces, salad dressings, and soups15
Make A Shopping List Of Lower-Sodium Foods
Get to know which fruits, vegetables, and packaged foods are lower in sodium.
Vegetables and Fruits
Eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables may be a key factor in lowering your sodium intake. This is because they are naturally high in potassium and low in sodium.16 Great examples of healthy snack options include raw veggies, like celery sticks, carrots, and broccoli; and raw fruits, like apples, oranges and bananas.
Grains, Including Breads And Cereals
Along with fresh vegetables and fruits, you may also enjoy snacks made from brown or wild rice, quinoa, or barley; whole wheat or whole grain pasta (don’t add salt); whole grain breads, muffins, and crackers.17
Foods With Protein
There are many tasty snacks that are also high in protein and low in salt. Check the nutrition labels for a daily value of 5% or less of sodium. A protein-rich snack may include:
- Fresh or frozen fish
- Lean cuts of meat
- Roasted and unsalted pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
- Dried beans and peas18
In addition to protein, check the following dairy foods for low-sodium variants before purchasing:
- Low fat milk
- Low fat plain yogurt
Dressings, Oils, And Condiments
Condiments and dressings can be very high in hidden sodium. It’s best to consume unsalted or reduced sodium condiments and dressings.20 You can even make your own.
Fresh spices and herbs, such as parsley, thyme, basil, and oregano, are excellent substitutes for those times when you crave the salt shaker.21
Make Low-Sodium Snack Recipes
Light Kettle Corn
Movie theater snacks are notoriously high in sodium levels, most specifically movie theater popcorn. A large tub of popcorn may come with as much as 1,000mg to 1,500mg of sodium, an entire day’s quota of salt.22 An equivalent amount of buttered microwave popcorn is slightly better, with about 700mg of sodium per 100g of popped corn.23 With these two snacks, you’d really have to eat a small handful of popcorn to avoid overdoing the sodium.
However, making homemade popcorn can be a super low-sodium snack. Air-popped popcorn, made in a home corn popper with nothing else added, contains nearly zero sodium.24 It turns out that eating unsalted popcorn can be both a satisfying snack and a low-sodium food.
Vegetable Chips With Sea Salt
Vegetable chips are an easy and tasty to-go snack. They’re a variation on the tried-and-true potato chip.
- Any combination of the following veggies:
- Sweet potatoes
- White potatoes
- A sprinkling of cracked black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and a little nutritional yeast
- Avocado oil25
- Preheat the oven to 300°F.
- Place parchment paper on two baking sheets.
- Slice veggies using a mandolin, and coat with oil.
- Place on baking sheets.
- Coat very lightly with salt.
- Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets. Bake once more for 15 minutes, then rotate again and bake 5-10 minutes more, then remove from heat.
Almond Flour Crackers
These simple almond crackers are an excellent alternative to chips. They’re also a good source of fiber.
- 1 cup almond flour (not almond meal)
- 3 Tbsp water
- 1 Tbsp ground flaxseed
- A sprinkling of fresh or dried rosemary
- ¼ tsp cracked black pepper26
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Add all ingredients to a medium-sized bowl, and stir into a dough.
- Place dough on parchment paper, cover with another sheet of parchment paper, and roll with a rolling pin to ⅛ inch thick.
- Remove the top sheet.
- Cut dough into small squares (about 1 inch on each side).
- Transfer, with parchment paper, to a baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and let cool completely, storing 4-5 days on the counter in an airtight bag.
Homemade Roasted Seaweed Snacks
Roasted seaweed snacks are a popular snack. However, they are often high in sodium. You can make your own very easily. Your taste buds will be delighted.
- 1 package of plain sushi nori
- Sesame oil (or olive oil)
- ⅛ cup nutritional yeast
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- Wasabi or horseradish (optional, but delicious)27
- Cut nori sheets into nine pieces.
- Brush individual nori pieces with sesame oil (and wasabi or horseradish, if desired). Sprinkle with nutritional yeast, garlic powder and black pepper, and place on a baking sheet.
- Bake at 350°F for 7 minutes; flip over and bake for another 5 minutes (watching carefully so they don’t burn).
- Remove from the oven, and enjoy.
Dark Chocolate Nuts And Sea Salt Bars
These homemade snack bars are a nutritionally balanced snack with bold flavor.
- 1 cup almonds
- ½ cup peanuts
- ½ cup brown rice crisp cereal
- ⅛ tsp sea salt
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup
- ⅓ cup chocolate chips
- ½ tsp coconut oil28
- 3 Tbsps chocolate chips
- ¼ tsp coconut oil
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.
- For the bars, add almonds, peanuts, cereal, and salt to a large bowl.
- Mix well, then fold maple syrup into the mixture.
- Pour into the baking pan, and bake for 30-40 minutes or until fully baked.
- Remove from the oven and let cool completely, then slice into 12 bars.
- Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Melt chocolate chips using either the double boiler method or a microwave (15 seconds).
- Dip the bottom of each bar in the melted chocolate, and place on a baking sheet.
- Repeat step 8 for chocolate drizzle, then drizzle chocolate on top of each bar in a zig-zag pattern.
- Sprinkle each bar with sea salt.
- Freeze 10-20 minutes, or until hardened.
Low-Sodium Snacks: So Many Options
Salt may be essential for life, but too much of a good thing may also be harmful. Whether you’re a salty snack lover or you just snack unhealthy out of habit, eating a low-sodium diet need not be a burden. Starting with these nutritionist-approved low-sodium snacks, you can enjoy delicious dinners, crunchy snacks, or a healthy, satisfying, and balanced breakfast without feeling like you’re missing out.
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