Let's get something straight right now—there's nothing inherently unhealthy about snacking or salty foods. In fact, registered dietitians love snacks. And while salt is often (ironically) seen as the black sheep of pantry spices, it is a nutrient-rich mineral. The reason salt is often talked about with a dose of side-eye is because many people think of salt and sodium as interchangeable. PSA: They aren't the same thing. "Salt is sodium chloride...the amount of sodium in salt is 40 percent," Georgie Fear, RD, previously told Well+Good.
What's more, another truth bomb is that sodium isn't unhealthy either. Sodium is one of the body's electrolytes, helping with muscle contraction as well as blood flow and volume. In other words: we need sodium to survive. But, like virtually everything else in life, it is something we need in moderation.
"Most people eat way more sodium than the body actually needs," nutrition expert Aja Gyimah, RD, explains. Consistently consuming too much sodium, Gyimah says, is bad for health because it's linked with an increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. This is why the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends capping sodium intake at 2,300 milligrams a day—a lot less than the 3,400 milligrams the average American consumes daily.
Watch the video below to learn more about sodium:
"Because of the connection between sodium intake and heart health, it's especially important for people who have a family history of stroke, high blood pressure, or cardiovascular disease to be mindful of their intake," Gyimah says. Often, she says, this comes down to eying the good old nutritional panel when figuring out what to snack on. It's also helpful to be aware of what foods are particularly high in sodium. "This often includes highly processed foods, like chips, but sodium can also pop up in high amounts in less expected places, like salad dressings and sauces," Gyimah says.
Something else that can keep anyone from consuming excessive amounts of sodium is having an arsenal of delicious low-sodium snacks on hand. That way, you can grab something to snack on without even having to check the nutritional panel; you already know it's a low-sodium choice. According to Gyimah, a snack qualifies as low sodium if the amount of sodium is less than a five percent daily value. Sodium daily value percentages are required to be listed on food panels, so it's something easy to look up.
You can also use all the snacks rounded up below as a handy dandy low-sodium snacks cheat sheet. It includes options you can buy at the store as well as foods you can make at home.
5 low-sodium snacks to buy
There’s something so darn satisfying about a puffed snack. While most are full of sodium, these only have 50 milligrams per serving—about two percent of the daily value recommendation. Made with green peas, they also have five grams of protein per serving.
5 low-sodium snacks to make
1. Chocolate bliss balls
Many chocolate snacks aren't just high in sugar—they're full of sodium, too. Not these! Made with dark chocolate, they're high in antioxidants. They also contain an herb called mucuna, which is known to be a natural mood-booster.
2. Meet hummus
Um, most beautiful hummus ever? The ingredients list for this recipe is simple: beets, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, and garlic. It shows you can have a truly savory, flavorful snack without any salt at all. Just be mindful of what you pair with it as some crackers or pita chips can be full of sodium; stick with veggies, like carrots or cucumber, for a zero sodium snack.
3. Heart-healthy trail mix
Trail mix is one of the easiest snacks to make that will satisfy a craving for something that's both salty and sweet—and yes, it can do so without you reaching for your salt shaker whatsoever. This one is made with almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, dried cherries, dried apples, and dark chocolate chips.
Get the recipe: heart-healthy trail mix
4. Crispy spiced chickpeas
If you need a hit of protein to push through the afternoon, a handful of crispy chickpeas just might do the trick. There's only a half teaspoon of salt in the entire recipe. Instead, center stage is given to inflammation-fighting herbs like cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper.
Get the recipe: crispy spiced chickpeas
5. Paleo tortilla chips
Making your own tortilla chips may sound intimidating, but it's actually pretty simple and gives you complete control over the ingredients list. These ones are made with protein-rich foods, like eggs and almond flour. And unlike many store-bought chips, there's hardly any salt at all.
Get the recipe: Paleo tortilla chips
It bears repeating that sodium isn't bad; in fact, we need it. It's just important not to consume too much. Doing your nutrition label reading and having go-tos on hand that you *know* are low sodium snacks go a long way in terms of being mindful of your sodium intake.
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