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Jun 28, 2014 09:05 PM

Low sodium anniversary dinner?

Sooo the hubs just got the news after some serious dizzy spells that he needs to adopt a low sodium and no MSG diet immediately. The good thing is that he is already one of the healthiest eaters I know - mostly a home cooker, a vegetarian, and doesn't really have a salt lick. He's super fit and has never watched a calorie or read a nutritional label in his life other than to make sure there's no crazy artificial additives or sneaky meat inside.

Watching sodium intake is really new for him, so new that when we even made an afternoon pit stop at Jamba Juice today he wouldn't order a fruit/veggie only drink without knowing the sodium content ahead of time!

Anyway, we'd like to go somewhere nice (we're new parents so we hardly ever go out to eat anywhere slow these days) which for us can mean anything from Camino to Burma Superstar to Chez Panisse ideally where I can get some seafood and he can get a solid veg dish.

The only thing is: HOW DO YOU EAT LOW SODIUM WHEN YOU GO OUT TO EAT?!?!?! We've never ever had to order anything 'special style' before - other than asking what's good at a Chinese can anyone shed light on places that are accommodating for this? In general I told him that eating out is going to suck and no more eating out Vietnamese or kind of many Asian places that love sprinkling the magic MSG on it.

Please share any thoughts on how to eat out low sodium - maybe it's not as hard or fussy or annoying as i think? Are there any restaurants in particular that are great places that can accommodate while providing uber yummy food? We like FLAVOR more than anything. Bland food is boring food. Thank goodness I don't need to be restricting my salt for the moment...


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  1. Call before going to a restaurant and ask if they will help with health restrictions. Some will, some won't. I have huge restrictions but my doctor said one meal won't kill you. Just don't go too crazy. Sodium hides in everything, celery who knew. Cookies, everything. Ask them not to salt as they cook, breads etc you can't change.

    Lots of luck. It is nearly impossible to eat anything that is processed or cooked by others.

    1. I've dealt with this constantly for a few years. A complex topic; here are a few points.

      1. You don't have to leave food "unsalted" to avoid sodium.

      Immediately (if you haven't already), buy a pound or two of potassium-based salt substitute, for home use (you can also bring your own to restaurants if that helps). These let you easily reduce sodium in cooking, WITHOUT changing the flavor. Common supermarket brands are No-Salt™ and Lo-Salt™. The first is pure potassium chloride (KCl), the second includes 1/3 regular salt (NaCl), so it has a third the sodium of plain salt, but tastes much better than pure KCl. No-Salt (pure KCl) claims to taste like salt, but doesn't (its effect is kind of "shy") whereas adding at least about one part in five of salt to KCl (wjich you can also do yourself) yields a much more natural flavor. Note that dietary potassium (which occurs especially in fresh produce) tends to _lower_ blood pressure, the opposite effect from sodium. Medical research suggests that (even regardless of sodium) people show health benefits, even beyond BP effects, from increased dietary potassium: .

      2. Taste buds become more sensitive to food salting after deliberately cutting back, but that's never fully reliable: other flavor components can mask salt.

      3. Our local restaurants are treacherous. Like the processed food industry (where most Americans get their intake of 10 to 100 times the basic sodium need of ~0.2 g/day -- not from home cooking! a frozen pizza can have 6-7 grams of sodium), most restaurant kitchens season for max. customer appeal (translation: generous salt and fats). Some popular Bay Area cuisines especially. Gratuitous salt sources ABOUND in Asian condiments. You'll want to steer studiously clear of soup-based restaurants (like ramen and Phở houses), which UBIQUITOUSLY lean on salt and MSG as shortcuts for quality broths. Likewise, frankly, most Chinese food, such as stir-fries. If you find a restaurant that's alert to this issue and works with you, that's a big plus.

      4. On the side matter of MSG, the following is a novelty fact more than anything else (since added MSG is always a hokey substitute for flavor), but people strictly concerned with sodium can actually _lower_ its intake by combining MSG with a little salt -- since MSG contains much less sodium than salt does, weight-for-weight, and specifically enhances saltiness perception -- a research result cited in my MSG-trivia post in this specific-post link:

      5. Today, most Bay Area Chinese restaurants do NOT add explicit MSG, but they use many condiments that concentrate it naturally, like soy sauce and fermented bean products. So avoiding "added MSG" per-se not only won't help the sodium issue, it won't even lower your real MSG intake. There's more -- though many people have formed grossly mistaken intuitions on this point -- even avoiding those condiments won't eliminate or even necessarily much reduce your dietary MSG intake, since MSG's ionic components occur in many natural foods, sometimes in even higher concentrations than any restaurant adds -- more data via the thread linked above -- but don't fret over that: other cofactors and complexities complicate the dietary picture, the key point is we're evolved to handle natural foods, but not gratuitous amounts of added salt or MSG.

      Yes, bland food is boring food, yet you don't need crutches like sodium to avoid blandless. Potassium helps, and real _flavor_ sources, then just a minimum of added sodium. That real flavor is what presents a challenge to commercial cooking.

      1. Make a reservation at least a week in advance and discuss your requirements. Places like Camino and Chez Panisse could certainly produce low-sodium vegetarian dishes with enough advance notice. Gather is particularly active in catering to special diets.