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Low-Salt Diets: Eating Out

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For many people, eating out is something they do to relax and socialize. You don't have to give this up when you are on a low-sodium diet, but it is important to be more careful about what you order in a restaurant. Sodium isn't just in table salt. You can also find it in sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Asian foods often have MSG as well as soy sauce, which is also high in sodium. But with some planning and helpful tips, you can still enjoy eating out while limiting the sodium in your diet.

  • Restaurant foods are usually high in sodium.
  • Most restaurants are willing to prepare your food with less or no sodium, if you ask.
  • Food can still taste good and be low in sodium.

If you are on a low-sodium diet, you need to limit your intake of salt and other forms of sodium in the food you eat.

Most people shouldn't eat more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day.1

If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, if you are African American, or if you are older than age 50, try to limit the amount of sodium you eat to less than 1,500 mg a day.1

Your doctor also may have suggested that you limit your salt to a certain amount every day.

Test Your Knowledge

Everyone who follows a low-sodium diet eats the same low amount of sodium.


Sodium causes your body to hold extra water. This can make certain conditions, such as heart failure or kidney disease, worse. For example, if you have heart failure, too much sodium makes it harder for your already weakened heart to pump and can lead to sudden heart failure. Fluid may build up in your lungs—making it harder for you to breathe—and in your feet, ankles, legs, and belly. Limiting sodium in your diet will make you feel better.

Test Your Knowledge

Too much sodium may cause your body to hold extra water.


It requires extra effort to avoid sodium when you eat out, because you can't always tell by looking at the menu which items are high in sodium. It often depends on how the restaurant prepares the meal, what ingredients they use, and how much sodium they add. Here are some ways to avoid sodium when you dine out.

  • Try to choose restaurants where the food is made to order, instead of choosing fast-food or buffet-style restaurants. Before you order, ask how the food is prepared and if the restaurant offers low-sodium menu items. Often you can ask that your meal be prepared with no added sodium.
  • Most fast-food restaurants have nutrition information available, including sodium content. If you do eat at a fast-food restaurant, ask for the nutrition information. Choose lower-sodium items.
  • Ethnic foods, such as Asian or Mexican, often have lots of sodium. You don't always have to give up these foods, but ask the server to help you make lower-sodium choices.
  • When you eat out, try to eat very low-sodium items the rest of the day. This will help you stay within your sodium limit for the day.

Learn what food items are okay and which ones to avoid. For example, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce has more than 1,000 mg of sodium, and 1 teaspoon of salt has about 2,300 mg of sodium. You can use the following list and bring it with you to the restaurant. You may be able to substitute low-salt or fresh menu items for those with higher sodium content.

Tips for eating out
Foods to avoidInstead, choose or ask for ...

Smoked, cured, and salted meat, fish, and poultry

Fresh, grilled, baked, poached, or broiled meat, fish, or poultry

Ham, bacon, hot dogs, luncheon meats, and cheese

Fresh roasted pork, turkey, or chicken

Canned vegetables

Fresh steamed vegetables with no added salt. (Assume that cooked vegetables have added salt unless you ask for them to be prepared without it.)

Condiments, such as pickles, olives, tartar sauce, and ketchup

Sliced cucumbers, malt vinegar, or low-sodium ketchup and mustard

Sauces, including soy sauce, tomato sauce, au jus, and gravy

Low-sodium tomato sauce, olive oil. Or ask for your food to be prepared without sauces, or have the sauces served on the side.

Salad dressings

Oil and vinegar, lemon juice, or low-sodium dressing

Soups and broths

Salads without croutons, bacon, cheese, or olives

Tomato juice or any drink that contains tomato juice, such as V-8 or Clamato. This includes alcoholic drinks like Bloody Marys.

Orange juice, other citrus juices, or soft drinks

Fried or seasoned rice

Steamed plain rice. (Asian restaurants often add salt to steamed rice. Be sure to ask for steamed rice without added salt.)

Pasta with tomato sauce

Pasta tossed in olive oil or with fresh tomatoes

Ice cream, sherbet, frozen yogurt, and angel food cake are all lower-sodium dessert choices.

Test Your Knowledge

When you are on a low-sodium diet, you can't eat out, because restaurant food has too much sodium.


Grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, and a plain baked potato are all good choices when you eat out on a low-sodium diet.


Now that you have read this information, you can make low-sodium food choices when you eat out. Talk with your doctor about the changes to your diet. He or she may have more suggestions and tips on how to avoid sodium when you eat out. You may also want to meet with a registered dietitian for more ideas about a healthy diet for you.

If you would like more information on eating out when you are on a low-sodium diet, the following resources are available:


American Heart Association (AHA)
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX 75231
Phone: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721)
Web Address:

Visit the American Heart Association (AHA) website for information on physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions. You can search for information on heart disease and stroke, share information with friends and family, and use tools to help you make heart-healthy goals and plans. Contact the AHA to find your nearest local or state AHA group. The AHA provides brochures and information about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and provide information and support.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
P.O. Box 30105
Bethesda, MD 20824-0105
Phone: (301) 592-8573
Fax: (240) 629-3246
TDD: (240) 629-3255
Email: [email protected]
Web Address:

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing and treating:

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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, 7th ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Also available online:

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerRhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last RevisedJuly 12, 2012

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