Thanksgiving. A time to be with family, watch football, relax and eat a lot of salty, rich foods. For many people Thanksgiving is not a time to focus on their health, and especially not a time to focus on their diets, but this can change.

In general, sodium (salt) intake is much too high in the United States. The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 1,500 mg of sodium per day for adults. One teaspoon of salt contains 2,325 mg of sodium alone. The average adult American consumes 3,000-4,000 mg of sodium per day which obviously is higher than the recommendation. High sodium intake has been linked to serious health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and complications of Diabetes.

People generally fear that they won’t be able to eat anything they like if they have to follow a lower-sodium diet. However, that does not have to be true with some planning and creativity. Below are three ways to reduce sodium in several traditional Thanksgiving foods.

1. Turkey

Choose turkeys that have not been injected with a sodium solution. This has become a common practice of retailers to enhance flavor and texture and to increase shelf life. This significantly increases the sodium content of a food that otherwise would be relatively low in sodium. A 3 1/2 ounce serving of fresh turkey breast has 50 mg of sodium. The same amount of the “enhanced” (injected) version has a whopping 350-400 mg sodium. Product labels must declare if they have added a sodium solution, so read your labels carefully.

2. Green Bean Casserole

This is a tradition in many homes and is made with two very salty main ingredients- canned green beans and cream of mushroom soup. Processed and canned foods generally are very high in sodium compared to their fresh counterparts. However, there are options to at least attempt to reduce the sodium intake by using reduced-sodium products.

Sodium content per serving of green beans:

  • Regular canned: 380 mg
  • Reduced sodium canned: 200 mg
  • Frozen: 10 mg
  • Fresh: 0 mg

Sodium content per serving of cream of mushroom soup:

  • Regular canned: 870 mg
  • Reduced sodium: 400 mg

Just with these two ingredients – not accounting for those yummy fried onion rings – you can make a green bean casserole with 1,250 mg sodium per serving or 410-420 mg per serving. This is a significant reduction in sodium content, yet you can still have your green bean casserole. The same can be true for many of our Thanksgiving favorites.

3. Gravy

Gravy and seasoning offer an opportunity to decrease sodium. Instead of canned or packaged gravy, make your own from the meat drippings and flour (the old fashioned way). Try salt-free seasoning blends. There are many ready made ones available at stores or try making your own using the seasoning recipes listed below.

Italian Herb Mix

  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons crushed rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

Cajun Seasoning

  • 2 ½ teaspoons paprika
  • 4 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

Post a comment and share your tips for reducing sodium in a Thanksgiving meal. Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

~ Linda Walker, RD, CSP, CD, renal and ketogenic dietitian, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

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