Where To Find Low Sodium Ingredients
Questions about sources are some of the most frequently asked ones that I get. Many people have difficulty finding ingredients in their local stores. So it seems worthwhile to occasionally try to summarize what I know about some of the more common ingredients. I'll talk about what ingredients I'm aware of that can help you reduce the sodium content of recipes and where I get them, both locally and through online sources. Many of the suggestions have come from you readers. Obviously, I can't include information on all the stores that may or may not have specific products. I get lots of tips form readers that I pass on and one enhancement I'm looking at for our Low Sodium Community membership site is to put all that info in the bulletin board there. But for now, you may still have to do a lot of searching shelves and reading labels to see what is available where you live.
First of all a little background information. I live in southern Maryland, about in the middle of that peninsula south of Washington DC between the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River. I do most of my local shopping at Safeway, with an occasional trip to Giant Food, Food Lion, Sam's Club, BJ's Wholesale Club and a local southern Maryland chain called McKay's. I buy many of the items I use at one of these places. I also stop by my local health food store occasionally. I live in a rural area, so the items I get here should be available in many areas, but there is no guarantee. Stores carry what they think will sell, and the store manager has some discretion in choosing those items. So letting your store manager know that you want low sodium items stocked may help. I've seen cases where a manager will order something new for you and ones where they don't, because they feel the space could be used for something that more people want. It never hurts to ask. If you have in your area a store that specializes in organic foods like Whole Foods or Trader Joe's is often a good source of low sodium items. The closest one to me is more than an hour away, so I don't get there that often. Some of the larger grocery chains also have good organic sections with a number of low sodium choices.
There is one primary online source that I'm going to mention right up front here because they carry a large variety of low sodium items. Healthy Heart Market at http://www.healthyheartmarket.com They specialize in low sodium items and carry some things that you probably didn't even know came in low sodium versions. Pete, the founder, is a great guy, and actually got me started in this newsletter bit when he published one of my recipes in his newsletter. Healthy Heart Market also ships to Canada for those of you who live in our neighbor to the north.The service is great, the prices and shipping costs are reasonable and the selection is extensive. Besides that, it makes good sense to patronize those places that are striving to make a living providing the products that we all need and often find difficult to locate. It's a win for both sides.
The other online source I'll mention is Net Grocer at http://www.netgrocer.com. They carry a large selection of grocery items from many of the major national brands. Although they don't specialize in low sodium, they do have a lot of items that I haven't found locally. If your local store doesn't carry a particular item, you may want to check there.
Baking Powder - In my humble opinion, this is a no-brainer. If you bake anything that uses baking powder with the regular stuff off your grocer's shelves you are eating sodium that can easily be avoiding. Given the amount of sodium in standard baking powder it's likely to be 100-200 mgs per serving. Some doctors also believe the aluminum in regular baking powder is bad for you. The simple solution is sodium free, aluminum free baking powder. There are several brands available, but the only one I've actually seen is Featherweight. I can find it at a local health food store sometimes. It's also available for just about the same price that I can buy it locally at both Healthy Heart Market and Salt Watcher. The price is also comparable to the regular baking powder and the resulting baked goods are the same as those made with regular baking powder. The only drawback I've seen is that is sometimes seems to leave little darker brown spots in light colored baked items.
Baking Soda - Like baking powder, regular baking soda is unnecessary sodium intake. The only brand of sodium free baking soda I'm familiar with is Ener-G and it is also available at both Healthy Heart Market and Salt Watcher. You need to remember to double the amount called for in your favorite recipes. I've had a few items that didn't rise quite as well as I expected and have heard the same thing from other people. I don't know if it's more sensitive to the amount of acid ingredients in the mix or what causes this. Most of the time it works great.
Seasoning Blends - This covers a whole range of items like seasoned salt, seafood seasoning, taco seasoning and other blends like Cajun, barbecue and curry powders. You'll likely be able to find some salt free versions of these on your regular grocer's shelves. Mrs. Dash makes a number of different blends that are widely available and major spice manufacturers like McCormack do also. Many spices come in bottles small enough to be exempt from the usual labeling requirements in the US, so you'll need to read the ingredient list and look for added salt. Health food stores and stores with large organic or gourmet sections often stock salt free spice blends. A couple of the more common brands are Frontier and The Spice Hunter. Healthy Heart Market and Salt Watcher both have a large selection of different flavors and brands. There also are a number of recipes for making your own blends on the web site at http://www.lowsodiumcooking.com/free/Archive.htm#condiments.
Tomato Products - Tomato products without salt are available from a number of national brands like Hunts and Del Monte as well as in store brands. Whole and diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste are all easy to find here. Most stores carry a couple of brands, in fact. The amount of sodium in the different brands varies a little and I personally prefer the flavor of the Del Monte brand. If you can't find them locally, Healthy Heart Market, Salt Watcher and Net Grocer all carry them online. There are also several brands of organic salt free tomatoes that may be available in health food stores. Eden Organic even makes salt free tomatoes with chilies, for those who may have been Rotel fans, also available at Salt Watcher and Healthy Heart Market.
Soy Sauce - The amount of sodium in soy sauce was a major disappointment to me, the guy who used to say he could eat Chinese six night a week. For almost a year and a half after starting the diet, I ate none at all. Then I began adding an occasional meal with low sodium soy sauce. After much experimenting and with a little help from a subscriber and an old recipe, I finally came up with a recipe for a substitute. If you don't want to go to the bother of making your own, the lowest sodium widely available commercial brand I know of is Angostura Lite, with 390 mg per tablespoon, but may be difficult to find.
Spaghetti Sauce - When I first started the diet, my only choices when it came to spaghetti sauce were to make my own, order some from Healthy Heart Market or buy the expensive health food store brand. Then our local Safeway began carrying No Salt Added Francesco Rinaldi Marinara Sauce. It only comes in the one variety, but the flavor is good, it only has 25 mg of sodium per serving and you can always add to it if you like chunky veggies or something in your sauce. Unfortunately, none of my local stores carry it any longer, but it is still available from the manufacturer at http://www.francescorinaldi.com/shop/welcome.asp If you can't find that locally, almost any spaghetti sauce recipe will work if you just leave out the salt. There are also several varieties available from Healthy Heart Market and Net Grocer. I've had a number of people write in about different brands of salt free pasta sauce, mostly from small manufacturers who specialize in organic food, so you also may be able to find other brands locally.
Barbecue Sauce/Salsa/etc. - Big name commercial brands of these products almost always have too much sodium. But they are relatively easy to make yourself from the recipes at http://www.lowsodiumcooking.com/free/Archive.htm Or go to Healthy Heart Market for a good variety of all of these types of products. One of my current favorites is a very low salt brand of Salsa from Enrico's that I found at a local store that has a good variety of organic foods.
Ketchup - Both Hunts and Heinz make no salt added versions. The Hunts brand is widely available at almost all large grocery stores here in Maryland. Both are also available online.
Mustard - This is a real mixed bag. You will probably be able to find mustards on your grocer's shelves that run anywhere from 20 to more than 100 mg per teaspoon. The sweeter varieties like honey mustard generally have the least. Healthy Heart Market carries a number of different flavored low sodium mustards. A couple of personal favorites are the Herlocher's Dipping Mustard (great with unsalted pretzels) and the Westbrae No Salt Stoneground, which has a flavor and texture similar to Gray Poupon Country French.
Unsalted Butter and Margarine - When I first started the low sodium diet it seemed a good reason to switch from regular margarine to unsalted butter. It was readily available, sodium free and tasted great. Then my doctor suggested lowering my cholesterol. So I was off on a search for unsalted margarine. It's not as commonly stocked as unsalted butter, but it does exist in several national brands. I was always able to get the Fleishmann's, but it has been harder to find lately as my local Safeway no longer stocks it. I also use the I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spray for things like toast and vegetables. It is still low in sodium and much lower in fat than putting a glob of butter or margarine on something. This is an area where you'll need to weigh your personal diet needs. Between the cholesterol in butter and the hydrogenated fats in margarine, there's much to be said for using as little as possible of whichever one you chose.
Bouillon - What a difference being "salt free" makes. An envelope of regular bouillon contains over 200 times as much sodium as the low sodium variety. Wyler's make a low sodium bouillon, although none of my local stores carry it. So does Herb Ox and it is readily available around here. Unfortunately, I can't find it in the larger jar, only the single serving envelopes, which can be less convenient. I've heard from readers that they can still get the jar though, so as always check your local stores. If you can't find it locally, it's available online. An alternative is to use the low sodium soup and stock bases that are available. I haven't seen any of them locally, but they are available from Healthy Heart Market or directly from manufacturers like RediBase at http://www.redibase.com They also come in a wider variety like ham and veggie flavor ones with 140 mg per serving, in addition to the very low sodium chicken and beef ones with 35 mg per serving. They are a bit more expensive than bouillon, but they go a long way and the flavor is *much* more natural.
Broth - You can make your own broth fairly easily and cheaply in a crockpot There are also good low sodium canned broths out there for those of you who don't want to go to the trouble. But they may not be available in your local stores ... unfortunately the Campbell's brand is a bit higher in sodium than some of the others. I've been able to find the Health Valley brand in several stores here, but it contains almost as much sodium as the Campbell's. Healthy Heart Market both carries low sodium broths.
Soup - This is another case where the "lower sodium" soups from major manufacturers usually still contain significant sodium, so you'll need to be careful and study the label to see what you are really getting. No salt added soup mixes and make it yourself recipes are usually a better choice, although there are some salt free ones from organic producers like Eden Organic and Health Valley . Healthy Heart Market carries low sodium soups and mixes.
Canned Vegetables - Del Monte makes a pretty good selection of no salt added canned veggies. The Giant Food store locally recently began stocking them. They are also available from Net Grocer.
Beans - It's easy and very cheap to cook your own beans using the dried ones that every grocery store carries. For a bit more money you can buy canned unsalted ones like those from Eden Organic. They are available at health food stores and online. You may also want to give your grocery shelf a good hard look. Giant Food carries a store brand of unsalted kidney beans, the only ones I've seen around here. And several local stores here carry some of the Eden Organic products.
Bread - If you are like most people, one of the biggest single changes that you can make to reduce your sodium intake is to make your own bread. Most commercial bread has well over 100 mg per slice. Many rolls and specialty breads like muffins and bagels are in the 300-400 mg range. A bread machine can reduce the amount of effort required to make your own yeast bread to a manageable level. It takes at most 10 minutes to load it and turn it on. You can even set it on a timer to have your house filled with the aroma of fresh bread when you come home. And you have the satisfaction of knowing that great taste of warm bread is accompanied by a single digit sodium count. You will read that the salt in bread recipes is required to help control the yeast. Don't believe it. Other than an occasional loaf that has risen too fast and fallen in on top, I've not had a problem. Even in the rare times when that happens, it still tastes just as good. Reducing the amount of yeast the next time you use that recipe usually solves the problem. If you decide to purchase your bread you should read the label carefully. Stores here like Safeway and Giant have carried low sodium bread, but it's getting harder to find. Pita bread low in sodium may be available. There are also several national brands that make salt free bread. Both Alvarado Street Bakery and Food For Life make no salt added sprouted grain bread that is carried nationally in grocery chains and organic food stores. Salt Watcher also has the Food For Life Ezekiel 4:19 low sodium bread,
Mayonnaise - This is another area of wide variation. Healthy Heart Market sells a sodium free, egg free mayo from Hains. The lowest I can find here locally is 60 mg per serving for a Spectrum Safflower Oil Mayo. Most run 100 or more mg per serving. You can also make your own mayo without salt, but I honestly am not as fond of the taste.
Cheese - There's good news here, even though your choices are pretty limited. Swiss cheese is usually fairly low in sodium, while most other cheeses aren't. And even with Swiss there's a lot of variation. My favorite low sodium Swiss from Alpine Lace isn't around any more, but Kraft and a number of other brands are 50 mg per serving or less. Food Lion also carries a block of Swiss with only 10 mg per serving and I've heard of other stores that have similar products. The flavor of the Food Lion one is quite good. Boar's Head makes Swiss that you can find at their stores or the deli counter that are very good and very low. They have a no salt 10 mg per serving Swiss, but their Lacey Swiss is also only 35 mg per serving. The problem comes when you want something other than Swiss. Most regular cheddar and jack cheese is in the 180-200 mg per 1/4 cup range. Boar's Head has a Munster with 75 mg per serving. They also have a Provolone with 140 mg, which is a little high, but lower than most you'll find on the grocery shelf. Bel Gioioso Fresh Mozzarella Cheese has only 85 mg per serving. The Mozzarella Company at http://www.mozzco.com also makes and sells online an unsalted mozzarella, but it is quite a bit more expensive than the Bel Gioioso. You can probably also find fresh mozzarella with the gourmet cheeses in most large groceries. It has a lot less sodium than the pre-shredded mozzarella most people think of first. Black Diamond Cheese, in Ontario, Canada used to make a low sodium cheddar that was available in Canada and the northern US, but it doesn't seem to be listed on their website anymore, so they may no longer be making it.
Bacon - There are some reasonably low sodium versions available (and some astronomically high ones, so read the labels carefully). Gwaltney and a Safeway store brand are 120 mg per 2 slices. And Kunzler's Honey Cured Bacon is only 75 mg per 2 slices.
Sausage - Unlike bacon, I've never found any low sodium sausage. I spent the first several years on this diet looking for low sodium products, reading recipes and trying to come up with a recipe for making my own. Some of them weren't too bad ... some of them were. And none was quite what I wanted. Then I discovered Wassi's Meat at http://www.wassis.com Their web page said they were the largest seller of breakfast sausage seasonings on the net. They offer a number of no-salt varieties, including Italian, kielbasa and the best salt-free breakfast sausage I've found. Making the sausage can be as easy as measuring spices and mixing it into ground pork or turkey. I like to grind my own meat so I can also control the amount of fat. And the good news is that a ground pork loin, or well trimmed shoulder roast or country style ribs is not only much lower in fat, it's also about half the price that ground pork is here. Wassi's does require a $10 minimum purchase for online orders.
Meats - These days many fresh meats are "enhanced" by injecting them with a broth solution to make them juicer. Unfortunately, it also increases the sodium level from 75-80 mg per serving to more than 300 mg. This is especially true of chicken and increasingly true of pork also. There is still unadulterated meat around, but you have to be careful and look for it. Safeway carries a Butcher's Cut store brand that is marked "minimally processed. And BJ's Wholesale Club has Perdue All Natural chicken in a number of different cuts. They also sell pork loins and other large cuts of pork and beef that are both a good price and untreated with anything that adds sodium. All of the Perdue chicken at Sam's Club, on the other hand, contains added sodium. I've also seen several instances of pork that was marked as being "enhanced", but that didn't contain a nutrition label to let you know how much sodium had been added. I now buy most of my meat at a local store that cuts and proceeses it themselves. In mnay cases it's not only better tasting and lower in sodium, but cheaper than the same cuts at the grocery chains.
Deli and Sandwich Meats - There was a long period where I figured that foods like deli meat and hot dogs were a thing of the past. But there has been some progress. Boar's Head, who run their own deli stores as well as being carried at the deli counter in some groceries, has a couple of options. They have a no salt added roast beef with only 40 mg of sodium per serving and a deluxe roast beef with only 80 milligrams. On the hot dog front, there is also good news. The lowest sodium ones I'd seen until very recently are the soy dogs that you'll find in the organic and vegetarian food section of the refrigerator case. The lowest ones were only 200 mg per dog and there are several brands at or under 300 mg. Trouble is, they don't cook or taste quite right either. They refuse to brown on the grill. The lowest sodium "real" hot dogs were the Hebrew National Light (now called Reduced Fat) ones. They have 360 mg of sodium and taste good, so they can work as an occasional treat for people who can stand that much sodium. But they are long and thin and still don't puff up or brown well. The good news about them is that they are available pretty much throughout the United States and in Ontario. You can find stores on the Hebrew National website at http://www.hebrewnational.com. I've recently found something even better though. Hatfield Meats in Pennsylvania makes a lower sodium frank with only 300 mg that is good. They taste right and they grill beautifully. They are available in stores from Virginia into New England. Check out the stores where they are sold on the Hatfield Quality Meats website at http://www.hqm.com/.
Egg Substitute vs. Real Eggs - You'll notice that many of the recipes call for egg substitute rather than whole eggs. The reason I switched to it was I was also trying to watch my cholesterol, so I trade off the extra 25 mg of sodium for reduced cholesterol. If cholesterol isn't an issue for you, it cheaper and easier to just use whole eggs. I use the Safeway brand egg substitute that is similar to Egg Beaters. It is cheaper and contains a little less sodium. It's basically colored egg whites with some vitamins and minerals. You could also just use egg whites in most of the recipes, but I'm the kind of guy whose Mother did too good of a job teaching me to clean my plate and I have a tough time just throwing the yolks away. The "real" whites have more sodium than the yolks too, by the way, so you don't save much by doing that. You can also buy refrigerated whites without the added chemicals.
Non-dairy Creamer vs. Milk - This is another item like the butter/margarine discussion where I've gone back and forth. Most of the recipes call for skim milk, but some call for non-diary creamer instead. I don't like skim milk, and the 2% that I can stand the taste of has more fat and cholesterol. I haven't found any recipe where creamer is a problem, although it is a bit sweeter. One of the things I've found is that there is often a tradeoff between sodium and fat and cholesterol, particularly in dairy foods. The creamer I had been using is a Safeway house brand, non-fat, non- dairy creamer. It contained no fat or cholesterol and 5 mg of sodium per tablespoon. This put it at about 2/3 the amount of sodium in milk, but much richer flavor than skim milk, which would rate the same in fat and cholesterol. Unfortunately, they no longer carry the no fat version and I have gone back to 2% milk most of the time. The regular version of their creamer lists 0 sodium, although the difference from the non-fat version may not be as great as it appears, since sodium contents less than 5 mgs per serving may be reported as zero. The drawback of course is that you get none of the nutritional benefits of milk ... it is primarily corn syrup and water with some chemicals added. Milk would obviously provide protein and a wide array of vitamins and minerals that the creamer does not. This is not a major concern to me personally because I am careful about getting these nutrients elsewhere, but it is something you should be aware of in making a personal decision to use either the creamer or real milk.