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Delicious ideas for flavoring foods when following a low-sodium diet

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Apr 8, 2023

Cutting back on salt doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor. There are options for adding taste to your food without picking up the salt shaker.


If you think following a low-sodium diet will be bland and tasteless, think again. Yes, I agree salt does make foods taste good. But it’s possible to reduce salt intake without sacrificing flavor. Healthy, home-cooked meals, made with quality salt-free ingredients, can be packed with vibrant flavors tantalizing your taste buds.

The pros and cons of salt

When counseling clients on following a low-sodium diet, they often ask me, what is the difference between salt and sodium? Are they the same thing? The answer is sodium is an essential mineral required for human health but is needed in only small amounts. Sodium is necessary for contracting and relaxing muscles, sending nerve impulses, regulating our acid-base balance, maintaining our fluid and electrolyte balance, and even maintaining blood pressure.

Salt (aka table salt) is a chemical compound composed of two minerals – sodium and chloride. You would have learned in a chemistry class that table salt is known as sodium chloride or NaCl. However, the mineral chloride in salt is the body’s major negative ion and does not play as big of a role in affecting blood pressure. Our primary food source of chloride is salt. People who have been advised to follow a low-salt diet need to focus on reducing their sodium intake, not chloride since it’s the sodium part that directly influences raising blood pressure.

How much sodium do we need?

Salt has been a staple ingredient since Biblical times in food worldwide. Early on, salt was found to be a significant flavoring ingredient that improves the taste of food and increases the shelf life of foods that can spoil quickly.

Many foods naturally contain small amounts of sodium, such as vegetables, dairy foods, meats, and shellfish. However, large amounts of salt often added to packaged and restaurant foods can harm our health. The average American consumes 3400 milligrams of sodium daily. Yet, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults limit sodium intake to less than 2300 milligrams a day. To know how much salt you consume, read the nutrition facts label. Here are two steps to follow when reading a nutrition facts label when reducing sodium intake:

  1. Look at the serving size. All the numbers you see on a Nutrition Facts Label are based on the serving size.
  2. Find sodium listed. The majority of time, choose foods with no more than 200 milligrams of sodium per serving or no more than 10% of the Daily Value. Refrain choosing foods with 500 milligrams sodium or more or has listed 20% or higher of the Daily Value.


Once you start reading food labels more frequently, you’ll discover just how prevalent sodium is in foods such as frozen meals, bread, and canned and boxed goods – it seems like it’s everywhere.

The American Heart Association wants everyone to limit their sodium intake to control high blood pressure or hypertension, a chronic condition affecting nearly half (47%) or 116 million American adults. That is good advice, but when sodium is ubiquitous within our food supply, that’s easier said than done. Unfortunately, the “silent killer” of high blood pressure has a way of sneaking up on people doing significant damage to artery walls and organs like the heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes. As a result, high blood pressure puts a person at risk for a heart attack, stroke, chronic heart failure, and kidney disease.

Delicious options for flavoring foods without using salt

We may not always be able to control the amount of sodium used within packaged foods or when eating out at restaurants, but we can control how we season foods prepared at home. Luckily, there are other alternatives besides using salt when seasoning foods. Each time you replace salt with a substitute, you do your blood pressure a considerable favor in keeping it under control.

Here are seven salt substitute ideas adding a distinctive and tasty punch of flavor to your meals and, even better, vastly reduce how much sodium you consume:

1.Citrus fruits


Talk about the power to transform a meal with no salt added – whether freshly squeezed juice or grated zest, citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges) have a unique and refreshing ability to bring out the best in chicken, fish, seafood, and salads. In addition, lemon, lime, or orange zest is perfect in summery pasta dishes, citrus pesto, or as a marinade for meats.

2.Rosemary and thyme

The duos of rosemary and thyme have long been added as a flavorful touch to roasted potatoes or veggies, relying on their fragrant infusion into the dish. This delectable pair of rosemary’s pine scent and thyme’s sweeter and minty flavor is also a flavorful addition to marinades, stews, soups, fish, lamb, and poultry.


A versatile spice, paprika is an excellent salt substitute, most likely found in everyone’s spice rack. Known as Hungary’s spice, replace salt by tossing paprika onto omelets and on top of deviled eggs, pasta, meat dishes, potatoes, roasted nuts, and even popcorn.


Naturally sodium-free, the vast array of kinds of vinegar available allows you to get your creative juices flowing in the kitchen. Whichever vinegar you use – such as apple cider, red wine, or balsamic – you can be assured of zesty flavors delightfully seasoning salads, roasted vegetables, fish, and coleslaw. Vinegar is also helpful for tenderizing meat due to its high acidity.


Commonly used in Italian dishes, basil is known for its versatility in countless meals. Its minty, peppery fragrance and taste can transform a meal from good to “wow” in seconds. Add a few leaves to a Margherita pizza for making pesto or to top slices of tomatoes and mozzarella with no salt needed.

6.Cayenne Pepper

If you enjoy your food on the spicy side, then cayenne pepper will be your go-to salt substitute. Cayenne pepper is such a flavor booster with a kick of heat that no one will miss the salt. This fiery spice can be a perfect addition to chili and soups or added to meat dishes, roasted vegetables, and nuts.


Onions are one of the most relied-upon flavor boosters found in any good cook’s recipe repertoire. Whether sweet or sour, tangy or loaded with umami, onions are a delicious addition to many recipes. From potatoes to meat dishes to stir fries to tuna salads, onions can do it all without salt’s help.

Mediterranean Herb Mix Recipe 

Try this blend of dried herbs for a taste of the heart-healthy Mediterranean region.  It’s ideal for seasoning vegetables, seafood, poultry, and pork, providing zero grams of sodium yet full of flavor.

Here’s how to make it:


2 tablespoons dried oregano

2 tablespoons dried rosemary

2 tablespoons dried thyme

1 tablespoon dried mint

1 tablespoon dried sage



  1. Combine oregano, rosemary, thyme, mint, and sage in a clean glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
  2. Secure the lid and shake until the seasonings are mixed well. Store in a cool, dry place (or the fridge) for 6 months.
  3. Just before using, crush the herbs between your fingers, with a mortal and pestle, or in a spice mill to release their flavors.

Recipe courtesy of Eating Well








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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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