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Tips to reduce sodium when dining out

tips to reduce sodium
Spilled salt and saltshaker on blue background

Hypertension Canada recommends that a lower sodium diet could reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke by up to 25 -30%. People living with diabetes are at particular risk of heart disease and stroke, so this statistic is good reason to cut down on sodium.

This doesn’t just mean moving the salt from the table. Most of the sodium in Canadians’ diets comes not from the salt shaker but from salt in processed foods and restaurant meals. How much sodium is recommended? Adults should consume 2000mg or less per day. Many menu choices total far more than this in a single meal. So how to eat out?

Here are some tips to help people with diabetes reduce sodium without giving up the pleasures and convenience of eating out.

Choose the right restaurants

Many foods at fast-food or chain restaurants are loaded with sodium. Even some of the menu items that seem healthy can be ones to avoid. For example, a regular Greek Salad at one franchise chain whops a massive 1,960 mg of sodium. If plans call for a visit to a fast-food or chain restaurant, try to check the nutrition information on their website before-hand. There are usually some lower sodium choices.

Asian restaurants use a lot of sauces like soya sauce, which are loaded in sodium. If a visit to an Asian restaurant is on the cards, try to load up on vegetable choices and avoid adding extra soya sauce.

Whatever the cuisine, restaurants where the food is made from scratch in the restaurant kitchen can usually be the most flexible about sodium. For example, ask which menu items are prepared with the least salt, and ask that no salt be added to choices like fries. You can also ask to have salad dressings on the side.

Healthier menu choices

Following general healthy eating guidelines will get people with diabetes off to a good start in restaurants. For example, it’s always smart to load up on vegetables and avoid fatty foods.

Here are some healthy menu items to look for:

  • Choose a vegetable appetizer like a small side salad, and ask to have the dressing on the side. Use sparingly.
  • Look for plainly grilled or roasted meats, poultry or fish. That is, menu choices that don’t come in a sauce.
  • Choose boiled, baked or roasted potatoes instead of mash. Ask that no salt be added to your selection.
  • Choose plainly steamed or grilled vegetables.

Less healthy choices

Processed foods are used at some point in many restaurants, particularly for items with sauces. Even some high-end restaurants continue to use quite a lot of salt in the preparation of this type of dish.

Here are some menu selections to avoid:

  • Menu selections that are cooked in sauces. These dishes are often processed in part, or are prepared with a lot of salt.
  • Soups are often very salty. It is smarter to avoid them when eating out.
  • Meats or poultry with gravy. Restaurant gravy is often very high in sodium. Ask for it to be served on the side, and use sparingly – if at all.
  • Dishes made with cheese or accompanied by a cheese sauce or grated cheese.
  • Ready-made salad dressings.
  • Caesar salads and Greek salads.
  • Smoked meats, including bacon and ham.

Even condiments can punch up sodium intake. Avoid ketchup, mustard and pickles.


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Diabetes Care Community is the author of articles on a wide range of diabetes topics. All of these articles are written to a high standard of quality. They are reviewed for accuracy with health care professionals and, wherever possible, will adhere to Diabetes Canada's 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines. It is our wish that you find our articles helpful. We welcome your feedback and comments.

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