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Ask Dr. Gourmet

How can I keep sodium levels around 1,500 mg/day for my family?

I'm trying to follow a very strict DASH diet (1500mg sodium), controlling carbs (60g carbs per meal), and feed my family of 4 including 2 teenage boys. I'm getting pretty good at substituting lower sodium alternatives like using reduced fat swiss for other cheeses but I'm having a hard time setting up a meal plan for my family. The low sodium meals don't seem to be very low sodium and many have added salt.

I look for recipes that have a balance of percentage of calories with the percentage of sodium and your recipes just don't seem to measure up. When I look at lunch choices I can use reduced fat swiss (60mg sodium per ounce) or goat cheese (320mg sodium per ounce) interchangeably. How do you determine sodium levels to keep around 2,400mg per day for my family?

Dr. Gourmet Says...

Salting while cooking

There's no doubt that great research has been done through the D.A.S.H. diet programs. We have over two decades of information from these studies. So much of the ongoing study has helped inform us of how powerful a healthy diet can be in both preventing and treating disease.

Congratulations for working so hard to keep your family healthy. I think that any physician would be honored to have you as a patient.

Following a 1,500 mg sodium diet can be a challenge for many folks. For those at higher risk this certainly can help prevent problems later in life. For those with congestive heart failure and some types of high blood pressure, low sodium diets can be an important part of therapy. Most physicians prescribe a 2,000 mg sodium diet in such cases, trying to balance the ideal low sodium diet with what most folks can achieve as part of their daily lives. This 2,000 milligrams per day is the target we have used for the Dr. Gourmet website, and thus far I have not worked on recipes for a very low sodium diet (1,500 mg and lower).

The measure we use on the Dr. Gourmet website for low sodium meals is 500 milligrams (mg) for main course entrees. If the main dish is a complete meal (like a risotto dish, for instance) the target is no more than 750 mg. Side dishes are those with less than 250 mg per serving.

In some cases these recipes actually contain added salt (usually about 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon). In those cases simply eliminating the salt will help lower the sodium in such recipes (1/8 tsp. of salt contains about 300 mg of sodium). At the same time we try to use products that are widely available, and low sodium versions can be harder to find for many folks. For instance, your choice of using low sodium Swiss or goat cheese is a great idea. Looking for other reduced sodium products can only make this easier for you.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet