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Ménière's Disease: Eating a Low-Salt Diet


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The vertigo (spinning sensation) experienced in Ménière's disease can be severe and debilitating. There is little you can do to change the intensity of an episode, but eating a low-sodium diet may help reduce the frequency of your episodes. Salt is the most familiar source of sodium.

Evidence exists that restricting sodium to 1,000 mg a day may help those with Ménière's disease.

Eating less salt does not have to be difficult. Following are five keys to decreasing salt in your diet:

  • Read labels, especially on processed foods, to see how much sodium foods contain.
  • Ask for low-salt meals at restaurants.
  • If you use canned vegetables, rinse them thoroughly.
  • Call your local water company to find out the sodium content of your water supply. If you drink bottled water, read the label and choose a sodium-free brand.
  • Don't add salt to your food.

More information about vertigo can be found in the following topics:

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The cause of Ménière's disease is unknown, but it may be related to a fluid imbalance in the inner ear. When the fluid builds up, it causes excess pressure. This pressure affects the sensory systems in the inner ear used to maintain balance, which leads to episodes of vertigo.

Salt "attracts" fluids—it makes your body retain excess fluid. So eating less salt may result in less buildup of fluid in the ear and fewer episodes of vertigo. But eating less salt does not reduce the intensity or severity of vertigo during episodes.

Test Your Knowledge

Vertigo in Ménière's disease may be caused by pressure in the ear due to fluid buildup.

True
False

Eating less salt may result in less severe episodes of vertigo.

True
False

Salt causes the body to retain fluid.

True
False

Many of us like to use table salt because it adds flavor to the foods we eat. But salt contains a lot of sodium: 1 teaspoon of salt contains 2 g (2,000 mg) of sodium. Sodium is also found in many prepared foods, both for flavor and for preservation. Evidence exists for restricting sodium intake to 1,000 mg a day for Ménière's disease.

It is well worth the effort for those with Ménière's disease to know how much salt food contains and to limit salt intake.

  • Episodes of vertigo can be severe, and eating less salt may reduce their frequency.
  • Fewer episodes of vertigo may also reduce problems with balance.
  • Fewer episodes of vertigo means a better quality of life.

Test Your Knowledge

Those with Ménière's disease should limit sodium intake to:

2,300 mg.
1,000 mg.
4,000 mg.

Fewer episodes of vertigo means:

Less risk of falling.
Less risk of poor balance.

Limiting the salt in your diet may seem difficult. But if you are aware of the sodium content in foods and avoid high-sodium foods, you will be able to limit your sodium intake to 1,000 mg a day.

Perhaps the major misconception people have when limiting sodium is that the biggest source of sodium in the diet is salt added at the table. This is not true. In general, the biggest source of sodium is processed foods and foods from restaurants. About 66% of the sodium in our diet comes from these sources, while salt added at the table accounts for only about 15% of our sodium intake.

Following are some suggestions to help you limit your sodium intake.

Evaluate your diet

  • Talk with a doctor about how much sodium you need and how to evaluate your current diet. He or she will probably ask you what types of foods you are eating and get a rough estimate of your current sodium intake. Have questions prepared to ask him or her.
  • Track your sodium intake for a few days by counting the milligrams of sodium in the foods you eat. You will have to know how to read food labelsClick here to see an illustration.. Record your intake in the salt recordClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?).
  • Review your record with your doctor. He or she will be able to help you target which foods to avoid and provide other dietary advice.

Cook with less salt

When you cook your food, you can cut down on salt by:

  • Using fresh or frozen foods.
  • Rinsing canned vegetables.
  • Flavoring your food with spices, not salt. But don't use soy sauce, steak sauce, onion salt, garlic salt, mustard, or ketchup on your food because these contain a lot of salt.
  • Avoiding processed foods.

Limit salt in your foods

Look for salt in the foods you prepare and try to avoid high-salt foods.

  • Read food labelsClick here to see an illustration.. They tell you how much sodium a food contains in each serving.
  • Read ingredient lists and be aware of the many forms of salt. These include sodium chloride, monosodium glutamate (MSG, common in Chinese food), sodium citrate, sodium alginate, sodium hydroxide, and sodium phosphate.
  • Substitute low-salt foods for high-salt foods. Use a general list of foods allowed and foods to avoid. For instance, milk and vegetables are low-salt foods but frozen prepared meals and crackers are high in salt. Foods allowed have low salt content. Foods to avoid have high salt content.
  • Avoid fast food and processed foods.
  • Ask for low-salt foods when you eat out.
  • Drink low-salt bottled water.
  • Don't add table salt to your food.
  • Don't drink water that has been softened.

If you do not cook for yourself, let those who help you know that you need a low-salt diet:

  • If family members or friends help you, or if you hire someone, print this section and have them read it. This will help them provide you with the right food choices.
  • If you have meals delivered to you, attend a senior center for meals, or have another source of meals, ask the administrator of the program about low-salt meals. You may have to ask for special meals.
  • If you feel you need help, ask the provider of a nutrition program (often a health department or hospital in your area) to find out where meals are served in your area. Be sure they know that you have to limit the amount of salt in your diet.

Test Your Knowledge

In general, the biggest source of sodium in our diets is:

Salt added at the table.
Processed foods and foods from restaurants.
Salt added in cooking.
Milk.

Choose the food lowest in salt (you may need to review the general list of foods allowed and foods to avoid):

Fresh green beans
Canned green beans
Green bean casserole
Green beans served at a restaurant

Before you start reducing the salt in your diet, talk to your doctor. He or she will want to know about any changes you are making to your diet and may be able to help you.

For more information on salt and the amount of sodium in food, see the U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition website: www.nutrition.gov.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerBarrie J. Hurwitz, MD - Neurology
Last RevisedOctober 13, 2010

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