For many people, eating out is something they do to relax and socialize. You don't have to give this up when you are on a low-sodium diet, but it is important to be more careful about what you order in a restaurant. Sodium isn't just in table salt. You can also find it in sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Asian foods often have MSG as well as soy sauce, which is also high in sodium. But with some planning and helpful tips, you can still enjoy eating out while limiting the sodium in your diet.
- Restaurant foods are usually high in sodium.
- Most restaurants are willing to prepare your food with less or no sodium, if you ask.
- Food can still taste good and be low in sodium.
It requires extra effort to avoid sodium when you eat out, because you can't always tell by looking at the menu which items are high in sodium. It often depends on how the restaurant prepares the meal, what ingredients they use, and how much sodium they add. Here are some ways to avoid sodium when you dine out.
- Try to choose restaurants where the food is made to order, instead of choosing fast-food or buffet-style restaurants. Before you order, ask how the food is prepared and if the restaurant offers low-sodium menu items. Often you can ask that your meal be prepared with no added sodium.
- Most fast-food restaurants have nutrition information available, including sodium content. If you do eat at a fast-food restaurant, ask for the nutrition information. Choose lower-sodium items.
- Ethnic foods, such as Asian or Mexican, often have lots of sodium. You don't always have to give up these foods, but ask the server to help you make lower-sodium choices.
- When you eat out, try to eat very low-sodium items the rest of the day. This will help you stay within your sodium limit for the day.
Learn what food items are okay and which ones to avoid. For example, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce has more than 1,000 mg of sodium, and 1 teaspoon of salt has about 2,300 mg of sodium. You can use the following list and bring it with you to the restaurant. You may be able to substitute low-salt or fresh menu items for those with higher sodium content.
Tips for eating out
Foods to avoid
Instead, choose or ask for ...
Smoked, cured, and salted meat, fish, and poultry
Fresh, grilled, baked, poached, or broiled meat, fish, or poultry
Ham, bacon, hot dogs, luncheon meats, and cheese
Fresh roasted pork, turkey, or chicken
Fresh steamed vegetables with no added salt. (Assume that cooked vegetables have added salt unless you ask for them to be prepared without it.)
Condiments, such as pickles, olives, tartar sauce, and ketchup
Sliced cucumbers, malt vinegar, or low-sodium ketchup and mustard
Sauces, including soy sauce, tomato sauce, au jus, and gravy
Low-sodium tomato sauce, olive oil. Or ask for your food to be prepared without sauces, or have the sauces served on the side.
Oil and vinegar, lemon juice, or low-sodium dressing
Soups and broths
Salads without croutons, bacon, cheese, or olives
Tomato juice or any drink that contains tomato juice, such as V-8 or Clamato. This includes alcoholic drinks like Bloody Marys.
Orange juice, other citrus juices, or soft drinks
Fried or seasoned rice
Steamed plain rice. (Asian restaurants often add salt to steamed rice. Be sure to ask for steamed rice without added salt.)
Pasta with tomato sauce
Pasta tossed in olive oil or with fresh tomatoes
Ice cream, sherbet, frozen yogurt, and angel food cake are all lower-sodium dessert choices.
Current as of: August 22, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator