At the Store
Choose fresh first: Buy foods in their most natural forms whenever you can; it's the processing that ups the sodium. For instance, pick raw almonds instead of flavored ones, or freshly grilled chicken or turkey instead of lunchmeat. "If you choose more foods in their natural state, you're automatically cutting your sodium intake," says Suzanne Farrell, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Select by the numbers: Many foods have huge ranges of sodium, brand for brand (spaghetti sauce can vary from 270 to 770 mg per 1/2 cup), so choose the one with the lowest amount you can find. A good rule of thumb is to select single-food items with 300 mg or less per serving and whole meals (such as microwave dinners) with 600 mg or less per serving, says Pat McGinty, RD, assistant director of clinical nutrition services at Ohio State University Medical Center.
Read the fine print: Low sodium and very low sodium are good bets, but check numbers on products marked reduced sodium or less sodium. By definition, they must contain only 25% less than the original version, so the totals may still be high.
In the Kitchen
Be stingy: When a food product comes with a seasoning or sauce packet, use only half (or less); most of it is salt. In 1 cup of chicken-flavored rice, you'll avoid more than 500 mg of sodium.
Stretch it: If you love rice and pasta mixes, toss in naturally low-sodium foods such as steamed fresh vegetables, tofu, or grilled chicken. You'll increase the total volume of food, spreading out the sodium over more servings.
Drain, rinse, repeat: Canned veggies and beans are literally swimming in salt water. The sodium content on the label includes the liquid, so draining and rinsing off these foods can reduce sodium counts by 35%, says Farrell.
The bonus of all this sodium slashing: You'll soon start tasting the real flavors of food. And it won't take long, say Purdue University researchers: After 12 weeks on a low-sodium diet, study subjects rated lower-salt foods just as appealing as regular foods.