Low sodium foods on dining table

Controlling salt consumption when dining out can be difficult, particularly when you don’t know what has been added to the foods you order.  Restaurant food, including fast foods, have more salt than you realize.

Condiments, sauces, and salad dressings can send your salt intake soaring. Ask to serve them on the side, so you can control the amount used. If you have a choice of soup or salad, order the salad with oil and vinegar; that alone can save you more than 1,000mg of sodium.

Be careful of “healthy” choices, you know, the ones with the little red heart next to them. Generally, this means they’re lower in fat or calories, not salt. For example, a  garden salad with low-fat dressing oftentimes has more sodium than a hamburger and french fries. Hard to believe, but what you think is healthy may not be low in sodium.

Many restaurants publish nutritional data of their products on their website. Before you go, visit their site to find the lowest sodium items to order.

Amount of Sodium in a Typical Meal

Eggs w/hash browns, bacon & toast − 1,453mg
2 pancakes w/butter & syrup − 1,104mg
Bagel w/cream cheese − 784mg

Roast beef on rye w/cheese & chips − 2,081mg
Cheeseburger w/condiments & fries − 1,854mg
Soup & salad w/lowfat Italian dressing − 1,339mg

Pizza w/meat & veggies, 2 slices − 6,108mg
Fried chicken, 2 piece dinner − 2,049mg
Spaghetti w/meat sauce, bread & salad − 1,853mg
Sweet/sour pork w/egg rolls & fried rice − 1,848mg
Tamale & beef enchilada w/rice & beans − 1,812mg

Do you know which menu items are typically lower in sodium and which to avoid?

American Cuisine
  • APPETIZERS – Best choices: Fresh fruits and vegetables, unsalted nuts and chips, fresh shrimp (no sauce), or unsalted French fries (no catsup)
    Avoid: Crackers, cheese dips, patés, cocktail sauce, and meatballs
  • CHEESE – Best choices:  Swiss, fresh mozzarella, or goat cheese
    Avoid: Feta (technically not goat cheese), brie, and most other cheeses
  • BEVERAGES – Best choices: Beer, wine, champagne, apple cider, tea, or coffee
    Avoid: Eggnog and Bloody Marys
  • SALADS – Best choices: Tossed greens, carrot/raisin, fresh fruit salad (no dressing), gelatin salads, and Waldorf salads
    Avoid: Three-bean and mayo-based salads
  • SALAD DRESSINGS – Best choices: Vinaigrette or oil & vinegar
    Avoid: Creamy dressings and Zesty Italian
  • SOUPS – Avoid soups
  • ENTREES – Best choices: Grilled poultry, beef, pork, fish, or dishes without sauces or breading
    Avoid: Ham, sausage, breaded or fried dishes, and entrees with creamy sauces
  • SIDE DISHES – Best choices: Vegetables without sauces, candied yams, glazed carrots, applesauce, steamed rice, or mashed potatoes
    Avoid: Stuffing, rice pilaf and cottage cheese
  • BREADS – Best choices: Thin hard breadstick or small dinner roll
    Avoid: Biscuits, muffins, cornbread, focaccia bread
  • CONDIMENTS – Best choices: Honey mustard, cranberry sauce, fruit relishes and chutneys, jams and jellies
    Avoid: Olives, pickles, ketchup, Dijon mustard, gravies and most sauces
  • DESSERTS – Best choices: Fresh fruit, 1 or 2 small cookies, apple strudel, pound cake, fruitcake, sherbet/sorbet, ice cream, gelatin, or fruit tarts
    Avoid: Pies, pastries, gingerbread, cheesecake, angel food and layered/frosted cakes
Asian Dishes

Asian cuisine is loaded with sodium. To lessen the salt:

  • Limit intake of sauces by using chopsticks and leaving the sauce on the plate.
  • Ask that salt and MSG not be added to your selections, however, many dishes are made with sauces that contain soy sauce which is high is sodium.
  • Request more veggies be substituted for some of the meat or fish in dishes.
  • Do not add soy sauce to your meal.

Best choices: Bean curd or tofu items, steamed rice, steamed or stir-fried dishes with vegetables, sweet and sour or plum/duck sauces
Avoid: Soy sauce and MSG, black bean, hoisin, plum, fish or oyster sauces, deep fried or battered dishes (i.e. tempura), chow mein and lo mein, fried rice, pickled foods, soups

French Cuisine

Best choices: Dishes with wine-based sauces, vinaigrette dressing, sorbet, fresh fruit desserts or tarts
Avoid: Soups and creamy sauces (like hollandaise, mornay, bechamel, or bearnaise)

Italian Restaurants

Best choices: Pastas with marinara sauce, marsala dishes, primavera, piccata (hold the capers), oil & vinegar dressing, Italian ices
Avoid: Antipasto platters, cheese or cream sauces, adding grated cheese, Italian dressings, breads & rolls

Mexican Food

Although heavy in cheeses and sauces, you can keep your salt in check by requesting sauces on the side, no cheese added to your meal, and substitute corn tortillas for flour.

Best choices: Corn tortillas, ceviche, grilled fish or chicken, beef or chicken tacos and tostadas (without cheese or sauce), corn tortillas, fresh salsa or pico de gallo, and avocado slices
Avoid: Salty chips, cheesy dishes (like enchiladas and quesadillas), burritos, beans, rice, chorizo (Mexican sausage), flour tortillas

Fast Foods

Although the majority of fast foods are high in sodium, most eateries have some lower salt choices.

Best choices: Unsalted fries, veggie sandwiches, burgers (remove half the bun, hold the cheese, mayo and pickles), salads (bring your own dressing), yogurt, ice cream, or fresh fruit
Avoid: Breaded fish and chicken, subs and wraps, salty chips, ketchup with your fries, condiments, cheese (except Swiss), pies or large cookies