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Why Sodium is Still Important on a Vegan Diet

Learn about how much sodium you should eat per day, who’s more at risk and how to be mindful of how much sodium you are consuming. 

February is American Heart Month. Some people who are newly adopting a vegan diet automatically assume that because it is a vegan diet that whatever you are eating is healthy and good for you. This is a misconception. Sometimes when transitioning to a vegan diet you can unintentionally consume more sodium, often in the form of packaged foods or meals at a restaurant. We still want to be aware of how much sodium is in our food because it can negatively impact our health. Let’s take a dive into why it’s still important to be mindful of sodium and practical changes that we can make!

How much sodium is recommended per day?

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300mg of sodium per day for adults. That is equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of salt. Adults with high blood pressure should aim for </= 1,500mg of sodium per day. At least half of adults have high blood pressure? 

The average amount of sodium that Americans consume on a daily basis is ~3,400mg according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. The range of sodium eaten daily can be as much as 5,000mg per day. 

Are there certain populations at more risk than others?

Women with High Blood Pressure who Become Pregnant

Becoming pregnant when you already have high blood pressure and it is not controlled can put you and your baby at risk. High blood pressure during pregnancy can harm the mother’s organs, lead to early delivery of your baby and low birth weight. It is recommended to meet with your health care team to form a plan. A dietitian can help you work on food changes to lower your blood pressure before getting pregnant and continue to guide you throughout your pregnancy on the best food choices. With the right knowledge, blood pressure is controllable. Having a team of professionals on your side is one of the best things you can do to lower your risk! 

African American Men and Women 

High blood pressure is higher in African American men and women than in any other ethnic group. The reason for this, according to experts, is that there is a higher rate of obesity and diabetes. There are other contributing factors such as food access (widely available high-sodium foods/lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables), economic constraints and lack of nutrition education. Traditions can mean a lot in the African American community, where family members will do what “mama did”. And if mama cooked using a lot of high-sodium foods and/or salt then that’s what the children know and grow up to do. 

People with Diabetes

High blood pressure is very common with diabetes. About 6 out of 10 people with diabetes also have high blood pressure. Don’t be overwhelmed by this statistic because there is something you can do about it! Below we’ll start to talk about what you can change and how to do it. 

Are there lifestyle behaviors that we can control?

Eating a high-sodium diet is a risk factor for high blood pressure, but there are other factors to be aware of, such as:

  • An unhealthy diet
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Obesity
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Tobacco use

You can control what kind of food you put in your body, your activity level and if you choose to smoke or not. These are behaviors that can negatively affect our health, but we can make changes to them. 

Start by looking at your daily food choices to improve your diet. It is recommended to make small, actionable steps and not overload yourself with 10 goals at one time. In fact, it is better to start with 1-3 small actionable steps at a time. Once you feel like you’ve successfully implemented a goal, then add on a new goal. Take a look at a few examples below. 

  • Add fruit to breakfast
  • Add a salad to dinner
  • Switch to unsalted nuts for a snack
  • Instead of drinking 2 glasses of wine five days out of the week, reduce it to 1 glass of wine 

The examples listed above are all things we can do to improve our diet and reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure. It’s important to remember that reducing sodium in our diet is huge, but so are the other risk factors mentioned above.

How to be mindful of sodium intake

Contrary to popular belief, the bulk of sodium that we consume comes from packaged, processed and restaurant foods, not the salt shaker itself. About 70% of the sodium we consume comes from what we buy in the grocery store and in restaurants. 

Grocery shopping

Use nutrient claims on packages to start reducing the amount of sodium in your diet.

What the claim says What the claim means
Salt/sodium free Less than 5 mg of sodium per serving
Very low sodium 35 mg of sodium or less per serving
Low sodium 140 mg of sodium or less per serving
Reduced sodium At least 25% less sodium than the regular product
Light in sodium or lightly salted    At least 50% less sodium than the regular product
No salt added No salt is added during processing

 

Source: FDA.gov Sodium in Your Diet

Buy unsalted or low-sodium

This is especially useful when buying broths, stocks, and canned vegetables (including beans). If you are not able to buy unsalted or low-sodium canned vegetables, no worries! Simply drain them in a colander and rinse them under running water. This removes some of the sodium. You can also consider buying frozen vegetables without added sauces and seasonings. 

Purchase unseasoned tofu versus packaged tofu

Seasoned, packaged tofu is convenient, however, there can be a considerable difference between that and fresh, unseasoned tofu. When cooking, it definitely helps to flavor yourself so that way you are in control of how much sodium is added to your food. 

Choose fewer foods high in sodium 

Buy fewer foods high in sodium, like canned soups, frozen dinners, boxed macaroni and cheese and rice combinations. When you do want to buy any of these items, compare labels and pick the one with the least amount of sodium per serving. 

While cooking

As often as possible, prepare more homemade meals to reduce sodium. You may have heard this like a broken record, but meal planning can be a game changer. It doesn’t have to be a five-star meal every night. You can keep it simple with these great low-sodium plant-based recipes:

Breakfast

Lunch/Dinner

More cooking tips to reduce sodium:

  • Cook with onion, garlic, fresh herbs, lemon juice, and vinegars. Experiment with salt-free seasonings and just have fun in the kitchen!
  • Try different cooking methods that you may not often use, like grilling, roasting, basting, searing and sauteing to help bring out flavors in your dish. 

Eating out

You can still enjoy eating out while being mindful of your food choices. Below are a few tips:

  • Use oil and vinegar as a salad dressing
  • Eat a smaller portion and consider buying a small plate or starter. Split an appetizer with the table. 
  • Ask for your meal to be cooked without additional salt. 
  • Instead of using a whole condiment package (like soy sauce), use enough to flavor your food and that’s all. 
  • So how much sodium is in sour cream? If you are purchasing Forager Project’s Sour Cream and bringing your meal home, it only has 2% of the daily value of sodium per serving. Not too shabby!
  • When available, pull up the nutrition information online for the restaurant you are visiting