SHOP THE GREEN RING!
When it comes to shopping for your Low Sodium Diet, nothing can come before the advice: Shop the Green Ring!" What does that mean exactly? The "Green Ring" is the outer isles of your local supermarket. This is where all the fresh food is offered, usually in a refrigerated section. I must caution however, even though this is thought of as the "safe" area to shop for a low sodium menu you must always remain on guard as to the sodium amounts in the food you are going to buy, even if you are shopping the green ring.
Let's take a look at each isle in the "Green Ring"!
Dairy, yogurts and cheeses.
Of the 3 major isles of the Green Ring, this one can be the trickiest. There are some great fresh foods in this isle, but there are also a lot of high sodium products. You need to be careful in this isle until you have a good sense of what works and what don't. Dairy products are one of those items where sodium loves to hide. Milk don't taste salty at all, but a cup of milk can contain as much as 125 mg of sodium. Changing to 2% or skim milk or milk substitutes really doesn't change the sodium number much at all.
Most, but not all cheeses are very high in sodium. American Processed cheese is ridiculous in sodium. But you will find some cheese in this isle that will work for you in a low sodium diet. Swiss cheese is a great low sodium option, it usually comes in around 35 mg a slice. Fresh home-made Mozzarella is another cheese option that will fit your needs, as is ricotta cheese,. All 3 are fairly low in sodium and a serving of the swiss and mozzarella cheeses have a low melting point that allows you to melt it on a hamburger or on a home-made pizza and the like. Please note, most cheeses go through some type of processing, mozzarella that comes in a prepackaged bag is a lot higher in sodium then is a fresh ball made locally. Please make sure you check labels to make sure you are selecting the correct one.
Eggs and butters are both offered in a fairly low sodium milligram count. Eggs are pretty straight up and normally come in at 60-80 mg per single farm fresh egg. There is also a lot of companies that offer unsalted butters, sometimes sweetened. Even a few of the substitute butters are ok to use in small amounts.
Yogurts and spreadable cheeses. Yogurts are a great low sodium breakfast of sorts. They are not the lowest sodium item you can find, but if you eat a light breakfast it will suit you just fine. As with all brands, please check your label to find the ones with the lowest sodium count. To me spreadable cheeses include: Cream Cheese, Sour Cream (yes i know not a cheese) and ricotta cheeses. Cottage cheese does fall in to this class of cheeses and spreadable creams, but straight up cottage cheese is terribly high in sodium. Close to 900 mg a cup. However some low sodium, low fat offerings of cottage cheese can be as low as 30 mg of sodium a cup.
Meats, Fish and Proteins
If you are not a vegan or vegetarian this isle is very important to you. If you are vegan or vegetarian you can skip this section. This isle is a bit more straight forward then the dairy isle, but still has red flags we must take into consideration when shopping. First off, this is usually where the Deli is located. 95% of what is in a Deli is off limits to us. Process meats such as cold cuts, pepperoni, sandwich spreads are not, and will never be our friends. There are some lunch meat companies such as Boar's Head who do offer a few low sodium lunch meats such as chicken, turkey and roast beef for us. They still have a rather high sodium count, but not as high as their normal offerings. The biggest draw back to picking a lunch meat that fits into our low sodium diet is that most breads are also very high in sodium and so are condiments. The idea of enjoying a sandwich is really not an option staying within our daily maximum numbers, unless we take the time to find all 3 pieces needed to make a low sodium sandwich. Bread, meat, and condiments, which are out there to find. We must be very, very diligent to look at the sodium numbers in this isle. While most fresh meats will come in with a sodium count between 60-100 mg per 4 oz (think, equivalent to a 1/4 lb hamburger). Some pre-packaged frozen meats are sodium injected for preservation and self life. These items would include bags of frozen chicken wings, chicken nuggets, any processed, breaded and frozen meats. The one that took me by the biggest surprise was the sodium level in a Thanksgiving Turkey. I almost fell over to see it was 470-500 mg of sodium for 4 oz of turkey. But fresh unfrozen meats with the exception of sausage are usually all good for us to choose from, just check the label. Fish and seafood is also in the isle. The hardest part of buying a good piece of fish is most of the time there is no labeled information of sodium levels. It comes with a label, but once it gets unpacked and put on ice the label seems to get lost. For the most part, fresh unfrozen fish is lower in sodium then red meat, but once again it can be injected with sodium, frozen and shipped and that makes it very high. If you enjoy fresh fish, get to know your fish monger at your supermarket or local seafood house and have them provide you with the sodium labels of your favorite kind of fish, chances are you can probably have it included into your diet. The same can not be said for seafood, or shellfish. It comes in at varying degrees of sodium levels. Fresh, raw, still live clams are fairly low in sodium and I do eat them from time to time, farm raised shrimp is low enough to use in recipes, but not really do a pick and peel sit down. Crabs and Lobster are pretty much off the table, they are just very high in sodium and that's it.
Fruits & Vegetables, Produce
This is the easiest of all isles to shop and one I really enjoy spending time in. Fresh fruits and vegetables make up the bulk of our low sodium diet and are so good and tasty for you. I was a huge fruit and vegetable guy before I was placed on a low sodium diet. It made it very very easy to adjust to the idea I would be eating more of this. I do understand not everyone feels this way. You have to open your pallet and give new things a try. Even if the idea of asparagus and Brussel sprouts isn't your cup of tea, just remember this isle also has all the potatoes you need to make them mashed, or roasted, or french fried. Plus corn on the cob and of course watermelon, pineapple and so much more. For the most part fresh fruits and vegetables don't come with nutrition labels, but are understood to be very low in sodium if they have any at all. That doesn't mean that everything in this section is a guarantee to be low sodium. There are still some items we need to make sure we check labels on before buying or eating. A prepared salad bag of just romaine hearts is very low in sodium, somewhere in the area of 5 mg per every 3 cups. There are also pre-made salad packets that are seasoned to a specific flavor such as the Southwest Salad package that comes in at a couple hundred milligrams of sodium. When you are in this section of the supermarket, do yourself a huge favor. If you are not putting it in a bag to be weighed, it isn't a bulk bag item such as potatoes are onion, or isn't a "loose" item take a moment to double check the label and make sure it is safe to eat.