If you have been advised to go on a low salt diet and are reluctant to forgo salty favourites, tracking your daily intake may be the way to go.
In this second part of our low-salt series for people with liver disease, we look at modifying diet to stay within the recommended daily sodium intake*, and we discuss the pros and cons so you can see if this is a realistic option for you. (Click here to read Part One – No Added Salt Diet)
Changing your diet, for any reason, can be hard. We often hear from people advised to reduce their salt, just how hard it can be. Following a “No Added Salt” diet sounds like a simple and straightforward way to go about it but many people become discouraged by the inflexibility of this approach and simply give up. Tracking daily sodium might be a good alternative as it allows you to eat a wider variety of foods and to keep some saltier favourites.
Although it takes quite a lot of effort at the beginning, tracking becomes easier over time. You may find that you only need to track for a short while until you become familiar with the sodium levels of the foods you eat regularly. Many of us eat the same foods regularly and this makes tracking easier. Once you have tracked a week or a month you can repeat daily menus as needed and only track when you are eating something out of your daily routine.
Combining tracking with the No Added Salt Diet can also make things easier.
Combining tracking with the No Added Salt Diet can also make things easier. You can eat the “no added salt” way most of the time but learn how to track your sodium intake so that you can have more flexibility on special occasions, such as eating out or on holiday.
On the other hand, if you prefer to track most of the time you could, once in a while, make a daily meal plan of no added salt foods you like and forget about tracking for the day.
Benefits and costs of tracking your daily sodium intake
|Flexibility with the types of food you are able to eat
|Must track everything that you eat
|More options for eating out than on the “no added salt diet”
|It can be difficult to know exactly how much sodium there is in food that you buy out
|There are more pre-prepared foods available that are low-salt compared to “no added salt”
|Your overall diet may not be as healthy as it might be on the no added salt diet
|It can truly answer the question “what can I eat” for you
|You may find out that there are some favourite foods that are too salty to continue eating
|Your investment pays off over time with less need to track as you build up a list of known foods and meals
|You will need to plan ahead or choose no salt foods once you have reached your daily threshold
|Tracking may not be suitable for those who have experienced an eating disorder.
Ways to track
There are a number of options for tracking your sodium intake:
- writing down the sodium content of what you eat and adding it up. We have a Weekly Sodium Tracker and a Favourite Foods Sodium Values booklet that you can print out for this purpose (click the links to download them). Places to find sodium content are listed in the resources below.
- using a website service.
- using an app that runs on a smartphone or tablet.
There are many websites and apps that offer food tracking. Three longstanding free services with good reputations and high popularity were tested: CalorieKing, MyFitnessPal and Spark People. Spark People turned out to be unsuitable for sodium tracking.
Important note These services are developed for tracking calories for weight loss and are not exclusively for sodium management. People with liver disease should not use these services as a guide to how many calories to consume without the direct advice of a doctor. The calorie settings provided by these services are based on very general information and may not allow for adequate general nutrition or protein intake.
Setting up accounts on both the MyFitnessPal mobile app and CalorieKing website were easy and adding foods to the daily log was quick and simple. It was also easy to find foods through both services.
MyFitnessPal allows you to scan food packet barcodes with a mobile device. This ensures that you get the nutrition information for the local version of the product. Nonetheless, the first time you add a food, you should still check the sodium information on the nutrition panel to make sure it matches what’s in their database.
CalorieKing doesn’t have a barcode scanning feature but it does have an extensive database of Australian foods. Even if you do use MyFitnessPal, CalorieKing is a good back-up for looking up foods you can’t find on the MyFitnessPal. You don’t need to join Calorie King to look up foods in their database.
Tip Planning ahead can make tracking easier. Add all of the foods that you would like to eat for a day in advance so that you can spot any foods that need to be reduced or replaced.
Daily food example
The screen shots below show what a daily food log looks like in the two tracking tools. Information is given in calories and kilojoules. Macronutrients such as carbohydrates and protein are also included in the MyFitnessPal log. To keep things simple, just focus on tracking the sodium.
Both tools provide a column for sodium with a running total. On Calorie King you need to go into your personal profile and add a daily sodium amount for this to show. MyFitnessPal also shows how much allowance you have remaining.
Tracking your sodium intake with these services or with our paper guides could provide a good alternative if you aren’t able to stick to the No Added Salt diet or if you’d like a break from from time to time.
The services are straight forward and easy to set up and use. There is ample sodium information for those who prefer a paper system. However, it will suit some people more than others depending on whether you find this kind of thing fun and easy or fiddly and annoying!
Even if you do find it a hassle at first, remember that it does get easier with time and the benefit is a much greater variety of food choices. If you get stuck setting up either of the services, send an email email@example.com.
If you think that the variety of foods that you can eat with this approach might suit you but don’t think that you are able to track you could ask your doctor for a referral to a dietician who can help you make a personalised meal plan that incorporates some of your favourite foods. This may be available as part of a Medicare subsidised care plan for people with chronic illnesses.
Sources of sodium values
– Nutrition panels (required on all packaged foods under Australian law
– Food manufacturer’s websites
– The CalorieKing website has an extensive database of Australian food. You do not need an account to search the database.
So far in this series, we have looked at:
Part One – the No Added Salt diet recommended by GESA and many other medical associations around the world.
Part Two – discusses tracking your daily sodium intake so that you can see whether this is a realistic option for you.
Our final post, Part Three, will be for people who don’t cook and rely heavily on takeaway or supermarket meals. We will look which of these foods you are able to continue eating and what types of changes you may need to stay within the recommended daily sodium intake.
*In September 2017, the National Health Medical and Research Council (NHMRC) revised the Suggested Daily Target (SDT) for sodium to 2000mg/day. The Upper Limit (UL) – previously 2300mg/day – was revised to “not determined” to reflect the inability to determine a point below which higher sodium intake was not related to higher blood pressure. For more information visit the Nutrient Reference Values sodium page.