Section: Why the DASH Diet?

Lowdown on Sodium

A diet high in sodium contributes to high blood pressure in some people.  Sodium holds excess fluid in your body, making your heart work harder to move more blood through your blood vessels.  This increases pressure on your arteries.

To learn more about high blood pressure, visit the American Heart Association.

Dietary sodium comes primarily in the form of salt, or sodium-chloride.  Sodium is found naturally in some foods.  However, it is the sodium from added salt, especially in many processed foods, restaurant meals, and shaken on that really adds up.  

DASH Down High Blood Pressure

Health professionals acknowledge that following DASH can help people lower their blood pressure.  Adopting the DASH eating plan makes it easy to consume less salt since it is already lower in salt than the typical American diet.  DASH is also rich in other nutrients that help regulate blood pressure. 

The DASH eating plan allows for around 2,300 mg of sodium per day, which is about the amount contained in 1 teaspoon of table salt.  By taking DASH one step further and consuming only 1,500 mg of sodium per day, you may see an even greater decrease in blood pressure.  These amounts of sodium are far less than the 3,500-5,000 mg per day in the typical American diet.

Tips to Reduce Sodium

  • Decrease your use of salt gradually and your taste will adjust.
  • Eat more fresh foods and fewer high-sodium processed foods.
  • Choose fresh lean meats, skinless poultry, fish, eggs and tuna canned in water, instead of salt-filled canned, smoked, or processed meats.
  • Learn to cook some of your favorite restaurant meals at home.  Cooking at home gives you control of the salt.
  • Add flavor, not salt.  Cut salt in half and kick up the flavor with herbs, spices, lemon, lime, vinegar, or salt-free seasoning blends.
  • Buy reduced sodium or no-salt-added versions of canned and frozen foods.  Rinse canned foods to remove some of the sodium.
  • Cut back on processed convenience foods that are high in sodium: 
    • Frozen dinners and pizza
    • Packaged flavored rice, pasta, and grain mixes
    • Snack foods like crackers, salted pretzels and chips
    • Canned soups, broths, and vegetables
    • Condiments like ketchup, barbeque sauce, and soy sauce
  • Choose low sodium versions of soups, broths, canned vegetables, vegetable juices, condiments and soy sauce.
  • Check the Nutrition Facts label to determine the sodium content of packaged or processed foods.  You can still fit them into your diet with a little planning.  Limit foods with 480 mg of sodium or more per serving.
  • Taste your food before you salt it.  If you are tempted to shake some on, consider removing the salt shaker from the table.  

Use the Nutrition Facts Label

A Nutrition Facts label is found on all packaged and processed foods.  This is your tool to help you reduce your daily sodium intake.  Studies show that consumers who pay attention to the Nutrition Facts label are healthier than those who ignore it.

1. Check the Serving Size and Servings per Container

All nutrient information, including sodium, is based on serving size.  However, the serving size isn’t always the amount we actually eat.  If your portion size is larger or smaller than the amount listed as the serving size you will need to account for sodium accordingly. 

2. Check the Sodium

Sodium is one of the nutrients found on the nutrition facts label.  It is listed in milligrams and also as a percent of the daily value for sodium.  Keep in mind that the DASH eating plan sodium target is about 2300 milligrams per day.

Take a look at the percent daily value for sodium.  Foods with less than 5 percent of the daily value are considered low in sodium.  Foods with 20 percent or more of the daily value are considered high. 

3. What’s in it?

Ingredients are usually found near (often below) the nutrition facts label.  They are listed in order by amount from most to least.  If sodium-containing ingredients are near the top of the list, the product is probably high in sodium.  However, even if salt is far down on the list of ingredients check the sodium content per serving anyway.

Learn the Label Lingo

You’ve noticed them on the front of soup cans, cracker boxes and frozen dinner packaging.  Label claims can tell you a lot about sodium content, if you know what they mean.  “Reduced sodium” may sound like just the ticket, but the actual amount of sodium may still be higher than your goal.

Below are the sodium label claim definitions established by the Food and Drug Administration. 

 

Label Claim
What it means
Sodium free or Salt free
Less than 5 mg/serving
Unsalted, or No salt added
No salt added during processing
Very low sodium
35 mg or less
Low sodium
140 mg or less
Light in sodium
50% less sodium than regular version
Reduced sodium
25% less sodium than regular version
 
 
Shop by Comparison
When standing in the grocery aisle, compare the nutrition fact label of one similar product to another. Determine which product is the lower sodium choice. Check out the example below comparing two types of canned tomatoes. 
 
Low-Sodium Canned Diced Tomatoes
Canned Diced Tomatoes
Nutrition Facts

Serving Size 1/2 cup (130g)
Servings Per Container 3 1/2

Amount Per Serving
Calories
25
Calories from Fat
0
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
0%
Trans Fat 0g
 
Cholesterol 0g
0%
Sodium 10mg
1%
Potassium 270mg
8%
Total Carbohydrate 5g
2%
Dietary Fiber 1g
4%
Sugar 3g
2%
Protein 1g
4%
Vitamin A
5%
Vitamin C
30%
Calcium
4%
Iron
4%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Nutrition Facts

Serving Size 1/2 cup (130g)
Servings Per Container 3 1/2

Amount Per Serving
Calories
25
Calories from Fat
0
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
0%
Trans Fat 0g
 
Cholesterol 0g
0%
Sodium 150mg
6%
Potassium 270mg
8%
Total Carbohydrate 5g
2%
Dietary Fiber 1g
4%
Sugar 3g
2%
Protein 1g
4%
Vitamin A
5%
Vitamin C
30%
Calcium
4%
Iron
4%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
 
 

The regular canned tomatoes contain 150 milligrams of sodium, or 6% of the daily value, compared to the low-sodium version which contains 10 milligrams of sodium, or 1% of the daily value.

The regular canned tomatoes contain 15 times as much sodium as the low-sodium canned tomatoes. The low-sodium tomatoes are a better choice.