6 salty Southern food favorites you should avoid


April 19, 2016


Learn some simple ways to reduce sodium in your diet.


Whether you’re setting up a dinner date with your best friend or meeting your parents for a Sunday brunch, food is often at the center of our social events. Unfortunately, some of our Southern favorites are loaded with sodium, which contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Stacey Kendrick, M.S., health educator at Vanderbilt, says the following six Southern favorites are high in sodium:

  • Processed and cured meats (ham, bacon, sausage)
  • Processed foods (chips, crackers, cakes)
  • Fried chicken and fried catfish
  • Collard greens with fatback
  • Biscuits and gravy (breads and rolls)
  • Pizza


Kendrick offers some tips and advice for curbing your sodium intake:


  1. Think of easy ways to make favorite foods healthier.

Rather than frying, cook catfish and chicken with a bit of crunch at home by breading it, spraying it with no-stick cooking spray and baking on a cookie sheet. Collard greens can be made without added salt and cured meat. Pizza can be made at home with flatbreads or pizza dough and lots of fresh veggies — rather than ordering takeout.


  1. It is best to avoid processed and prepackaged food whenever possible.

Cooking at home is always better because you can control the sodium. When you eat out, you never really know how much salt was added in processing and flavoring. In order to eliminate salty foods, base your meals on fresh and whole foods that you cook yourself – not processed warm-and-serve products.


  1. Avoid fast food.

If you want a low sodium diet, your best option is to dodge the drive thru. If you must eat fast food occasionally, be savvy about which items are lower in sodium by doing some research; most fast-food places now have nutrition facts available online. Also, aim for grilled instead of fried, and fruit instead of fries. Avoid sauces, condiments and gravies. Consider, for example, that one popular fast-food Mexican restaurant serves a loaded burrito that has 2,650 milligrams of sodium, not to mention 1,185 calories. At that same restaurant you could choose a burrito bowl for less sodium. Skip the tortilla and dish up fillings like chicken, brown rice, fajita veggies and green tomatillo salsa for a total of 920 milligrams of sodium and 385 calories.


  1. Avoid adding extra salt while cooking.

Look for other ways to flavor food, such as fresh and dried herbs, a squeeze of lemon juice and/or pepper. Low-sodium broths, salt-free seasonings and cooking wine can also be good flavor enhancers. When eating canned items, choose the low-sodium option and be sure to rinse canned items like beans, tuna or veggies. By rinsing you can reduce the sodium by up to 40 percent, even if they are already low-sodium products.


  1. Start with small changes.

Reducing salt to the American Heart Association’s recommended 1,500 milligrams or less per day — that’s between 1/2 and 3/4 of a teaspoon — can be challenging. You may need to slowly reduce salt, and over time you should find it easier to enjoy foods with a less salty taste than you did in the past.


  1. Read food labels carefully.

Be aware of which foods you commonly eat that are high in sodium. People are often surprised to know that ketchup, cereals and even healthy choice-type soups are high in sodium.