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Registered Dietitians Answer Your Questions about Restaurant Nutrition

How Can I Make My Favorite Foods More Sodium Savvy?


Here are some simple tweaks to some favorite restaurant meals to help make them DASH Diet friendly.
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By Rachael Derr, RD

Q: My husband was just diagnosed with high blood pressure and has been advised to cut back on sodium but doesn’t want to give up his favorite foods. What are some easy ways to reduce sodium in common foods?

A: As dietitians, we know how scary and frustrating it can be to have to change your diet, especially if numerous changes are called for. But, have no fear—we are here to help!

Thankfully, diet plays a prominent role in the primary prevention and management of hypertension. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet is a useful tool to help lower blood pressure. It focuses on lowering sodium intake and increasing potassium, calcium, and magnesium intake from foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat dairy and whole grains.

To reduce sodium:

Be on the lookout for soups, cheeses, sauces, salad dressings and other condiments. Cured, brined and smoked foods—such as pickles, olives, cured meats, and smoked salmon—are loaded with sodium. You can always request items like dressings, sauces and condiments to be served on the side so you can add the amount you would like to your meal.

Look for options that include at least two (more is always better) of the DASH diet food groups: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean proteins.

Here are some simple tweaks to some favorite restaurant meals to help make them DASH Diet friendly: 

Cheeseburger:
  1. Request a whole wheat bun or see if the restaurant will wrap your burger in lettuce to avoid the hidden sodium found in baked goods like hamburger buns.
  2. See if the restaurant has a lean protein option for the patty – turkey burgers, lean beef or veggie burgers are always delicious!
  3. Load up on veggies! Double the amount of onions, tomatoes and lettuce.
  4. Use mashed avocado rather than mayonnaise and just a small amount of ketchup and mustard.

Pizza:
  1. Request light sauce or olive oil and garlic, as some sauces can contain lots of sodium.
  2. Request light on the cheese, a huge contributor of sodium in pizzas.
  3. Baked goods, like pizza crust, can contain a lot of salt, as well. Ask for thin crust – bonus points if it’s whole grain!
  4. Pile on the veggies! Just make sure they are fresh and not brined or cured like olives or marinated artichokes, which use salt as a preservative.
  5. Portion size is crucial when it comes to pizza. Eat a couple of slices and fill up on salad!

Burrito:
  1. Choose a whole wheat tortilla.
  2. Fill up on veggies! Marinated meats, beans and cheese are chocked full of salt. Use these ingredients sparingly and have most of your burrito be fresh veggies like sliced avocado, tomato, lettuce, grilled peppers and onions.
  3. Stick to pico de gallo, which tends to have less salt than other salsas.
 
Sandwich:
  1. Request whole wheat or whole grain bread or a wrap.
  2. Deli meats contain sodium as a preservative – so go for a lighter portion size.
  3. Are you getting sick of us saying “eat more veggies” yet? Eat more fresh veggies! They are naturally lower in sodium and good sources of the minerals that will also assist in lowering blood pressure. Plus, we’re dietitians; it would be against the RD code if we didn’t say “eat more vegetables” at least four times in this post.
  4. Use mashed avocado rather than mayonnaise on your sandwich.
  5. Stick with oil and vinegar or a small amount of mustard for condiments.

Let us help take the guesswork out of choosing lower sodium options at restaurants.  Search for Sodium Savvy choices like these at restaurants nationwide on HealthyDiningFinder.com:
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