Jess Goldman Foung is the author of "Low-So Good: A Guide to Real Food, Big Flavor, and Less Sodium with 70 Amazing Recipes." Here, she shares her tips on how to set yourself up for low-sodium success.
A successful low-sodium diet starts with skipping high-sodium prepared or processed ingredients, and cooking meals at home. But that doesn’t mean low-sodium food needs to be laborious or time consuming. If you stock your pantry right, you can avoid sneaky sodium contributors while keeping your meal-prep just as quick and convenient as takeout --not to mention healthier and more flavorful.
Beans, no salt added
Garbanzo, black, pinto, kidney, and cannellini — these days, markets carry a wide array of no-salt-added, ready-to-eat canned beans. Keep a few on hand and with a pop of a lid, you can easily add bulk to salads, soups, and pastas. Use them on meatless Mondays to make homemade veggie burgers or stuffed peppers and zucchini boats. Whip them into a dip. Or spice, oil, and bake garbanzo beans for a guest-ready, happy hour (or anytime!) snack.
Tomato sauce, no salt added
Having a few cans of no-salt-added chopped tomatoes or tomato sauce will open up a world of quick dinner options. This low-so pantry item let’s you skip the process of roasting or stewing tomatoes on your own, and will add a rich tomato taste to meals when the fruit is out of season. Simply add your own salt-free spices and herbs, or look for products with added flavors like “fire roasted” and “basil.” Then use the tomatoes as a base for quick salsas or meaty Bolognese, add to curries for a boost of umami, or use them to make a big batch of shakshuka or eggs in purgatory for breakfast, dinner, and last-minute Sunday brunches.
Pureed squash and pumpkin, no salt added
This pantry product is a must, whether you are on a low-sodium diet or just trying to get more vegetables into your family meals. A can of pureed squash or pumpkin makes a flavorful addition to (or stand-in for!) traditional tomato-based pasta sauces. Mix with a little ricotta or yogurt for a quick and healthy dip or spread. And use it to add thickness to stews and chilis. But best of all, with a little doctoring, pureed squash and pumpkin makes a great low-sodium swap for macaroni and cheese, in look and texture. Mix with traditional macaroni spices like mace, nutmeg, and allspice and some low-sodium Swiss, depending on health needs. Add the sauce to noodles, top with nut breadcrumbs (see below!), and dig into this healthy treat.
Noodles and grains
With an array of different noodles on hand — from no-cook lasagna to ramen — you can whip up anything from baked pasta casseroles to pad Thai. And the same rings true for grains. Use bulk bins to buy a range of varieties beyond rice, like couscous, quinoa, kamut, freekeh, and oats. Each type provides a different texture and flavor, which will help keep repeat meals (beef and broccoli!) fresh and interesting throughout the week. And don’t forget to use noodles and grains to perk up that a.m. routine. Top with a fried egg, sautéed spinach, and Greek yogurt for a savory breakfast twist.
Of course, it is best to always have all-purpose and wheat flour on hand. But for quick meals, make sure you save room for chickpea flour, too. Made from the ground garbanzo bean, chickpea flour can stand in as a low-sodium and gluten-free binder for meatballs and fish cakes. Even better, when combined with water, the flour forms a batter that can be baked into a pizza-like crust. You can make low-sodium pizza in less than ten minutes, especially if you keep canned tomatoes or pureed vegetables on hand. Once baked, you can also cut the chickpea flour tart into triangles and use like crackers for spreads and dips; into cubes to use like croutons in salads or soups; and into large squares for open faced, no-bread sandwiches.
Unsalted nuts and seeds
Hunger will strike. So keep nuts and seeds on hand to make a quick trail mix. Or blend to make your own nut butters and bring to work with apples to satisfy post-lunch cravings. But remember, nuts and seeds can do more than sandwich and snack; they can also stand-in for other high-sodium contributors, like cheese, prepared sauces, and breads. Blend creamy cashews or pine nuts with cauliflower to make a ricotta-like spread. Mix almonds with herbs and greens for a low-sodium, homemade pesto. And crumble toasted walnuts to make a no-bread breadcrumb, which can be sprinkled on top of casseroles and pastas and salads.
Rice crackers, unsalted
Ditch the sodium while keeping that avocado toast routine by using rice crackers in place of high-sodium bread. And don’t forget to save all those rice cracker crumbs at the bottom of the bag. They make a perfect addition to your nut and seed trail mix. They add extra texture as a topping for soups or a morning bowl of yogurt. And when crumbled to a fine powder, they make a great, rice-based coating for popcorn shrimp or fish sticks.
Nori, no salt added
These days, sushi seaweed can be found in the aisles of almost every supermarket. Which means you can make your own low-sodium sushi at home. But you can also use the sheets to add extra umami, “sea” flavor to your meals. Cut the sheets into thin, confetti like strips and add to egg drop soups, kale and cabbage salads, or even guacamole. Mix with sesame seeds to make your own furikake spice to sprinkle over rice. And best of all, use them as low-sodium replacement for higher-sodium sandwich wraps. Simply fill nori sheets with sticky rice, an avocado or tahini spread, and lots of thinly sliced vegetables and ready-to-eat proteins (like leftover chicken, firm tofu sticks, or low-sodium turkey). Then roll, pack, and enjoy nori rolls while on-the-go.
Molasses and jam
Whether you want the fermented, umami taste of teriyaki sauce or a thick glaze for ribs, these two staples will create quick and flavorful sauces and marinades, with little to no sodium. Add rice wine vinegar and fresh ginger for an Asian-inspired flavor, or smoked paprika, cumin, and honey for a BBQ-ready sauce.
Coconut flakes, unsweetened
Both ready-to-use breadcrumbs and pie crusts can amount to a lot of extra sodium. And while you can make both from scratch, without any salt or baking powder and baking soda, coconut flakes make a simple, stand-in; no utensils, baking, or chilling time required. Use coconut flakes in place of seasoned breading for dishes like pork tonkatsu, tropical fish sticks, or fried shrimp. Or, for something sweet, mix with eggs and bake in bowl shapes to form a coconut-based tart crusts. Then fill with custard, chocolate mousse, or simple whipped cream and berries.
Cow, nut, or hemp — most milks and milk alternatives will contribute over 100mg of sodium per cup to your morning drinks and daily meals. Coconut milk, though, often has less than 15mg of sodium per serving and can be found in both canned and carton form. Talk about convenient! Keep some on hand and add a creamy taste to soups and curries, pasta sauces, creamed spinach and corn, and of course, that morning bowl of oatmeal and cup of joe.
Having a spectrum of no-salt spices on hand will turn even the simplest meals (rice bowls) into something special (curry rice bowls!). But don’t forget this one secret ingredient: tea! Whether it’s sweet and spice chai, grassy matcha, or earthy genmaicha, tea adds a lot of interesting and unexpected flavors to food. Mix tea into cookies doughs and berry pies. Use in savory rubs for lamb, chicken, and fish. Mix into an herb-based tabbouleh or leafy salad, and use in place of high-sodium instant broth for a DIY microwave noodle soup that you can take and make at work.