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Sep 6, 2013 09:56 AM

What are the best choices for those on a low-sodium diet?

I'm traveling to Venice, Florence and Liguria in three weeks and am on a low-sodium diet. No other restrictions. Any tips on how to avoid high salt/sodium items? I know the obvious ones: no anchovies, avoid most sauces, etc. I'm mainly focused on grilled fish, vegetables, salads, etc. But I welcome any thoughts from others who have faced this issue. Thanks.

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  1. I am not on a low-sodium diet but have some thoughst on general eating in Italy. I wouldn't necessarily avoid most sauces. It all depends on how the kitchen handle salt; same with grilled items, vegetables and salads. Maybe long cooking sauces and braised fishes where the salt has already been adjusted to taste. You're are right that certain things one may want to avoid such as cured anchovies, olives, capers, cheeses, cured meat products. Also some bivalves such as clams and mussels. My experience with Italy is that they general salt their food more than I am use do. It takes me a few days to adjust. Probably the best is to talk with the waitstaff before ordering and request the kitchen to use less salt if possible. Tell them it is for dietary reason rather than personal preference.

    1. Hi,

      I don't follow a low sodium diet but I live in Liguria, and I think you will need to tell all your servers, waitstaff and cooks "senza sale" -- meaning, "without salt" -- when you order everything, even grilled fish. Better to carry your own small salt shaker or salt substitute and prudently add it than to let Ligurian cooks prepare dishes as they normally do, which is super-salty.

      You might consider ordering up one of these cards that plainly and vividly indicate in Italian that you need a low-salt diet. The wait staff will take it seriously when you show it to them.

      In particular beyond anchovies and olives, you need to avoid the region's foccacia bread which is extremely salty, and perhaps the famous basil pesto which is generally made with a salty pecorino cheese. Anything on a menu that is cooked "alle ligure" means it is sauced with brined olives. Better to go with grilled than "alle ligure". I don't know if you can eat dried codfish. Many times in Liguria it is air-dried, but it can also be salt-dried. (I would think any drying process concentrates salt.


      The chickpea torte of farinata is made with ground chickpeas, olive oil and salt. If your low-salt diet is very restrictive, you might want to avoid it. Other vegetable tortes and pies (made with ricotta cheese, eggs and seasonal veg) should be fine, I would think. You can probably eat the vegetable soup of genovese minestrone as long as you say "no pesto" or "senza pesto."

      On the left hand side of this website, you can find a link to an extremely typical restaurant menu of the Ligurian seaside.

      You can easily look up recipes of these dishes and see if you are comfortable eating them. Dishes with mushrooms and grilled fish should not pose a problem as long as you insist to the restaurant that you want them prepared without salt. I would also think you could eat a pasta with a "ragu" of fish provided it doesn't have olives. Likewise octopus. I also think you should have no problem with an appetizer of stuffed vegetables (ripieni verdure) and the local herb and cheese ravioli dressed with a pounded walnut sauce (pansoti con noci). Any salad you order will come unsalted and undressed. (You can remove any olives). You will be given condiments to add as you prefer.

      Because of the heat and steep hillsides, Ligurians love to eat salt in order replace what they lose through sweat. But there are plenty of local Ligurians who have been told by doctors to eliminate salt from their diet, so your wishes to have dishes prepared without salt will be respected if you communicate them clearly and you can still enjoy the absolute freshness of the local cuisine.

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