Why Low Sodium is recommended for Meniere’s Disease
A low sodium (low salt) diet is traditionally recommended for those of us living with Meniere’s Disease because it does have the ability to lower blood pressure. This change isn’t always significant but the little bit of pressure change can help decrease the amount of pressure inside the ear which is thought to aggravate symptoms for those who are sensitive to sodium.
Tips and Tricks for Reducing Sodium for Meniere’s
I get a lot of questions asking if the recipes on this site are low sodium. My response is maybe. Some recipes are much higher than others and I don’t write them with the intention to be “low-sodium”. I do use a lot of tricks to keep myself at a normal level, I just don’t specifically write these into my recipes. I’ve just begun to include sodium information on my recipes. I previously hadn’t found a reliably accurate way to calculate it. Many databases unfortunately have incredibly inaccurate sodium contents recorded for many ingredients so I hadn’t included this info before but going forward I plan to include sodium info on all recipes on this site.
These are the methods I recommend and often do for my own personal pantry and cooking to keep sodium lower in my recipes:
- Salt your food only until it tastes good. A recipe may call for a whole teaspoon of salt. Start with 1/4 or 1/2 and taste it. If it tastes good to you, go with it! If your food tastes bland, you’ll probably want to add a bit more. Salt is a flavor enhancer so it brings out the flavors of other spices and herbs.
- Use sea salts or pink himalayan. These salts are a blend of minerals to create the salty flavor rather than just sodium. This also means you can typically use less and end up with more flavor when compared to table salt.
- Use a salt substitute. There are salt substitutes that add a salty flavor without using sodium and you can use them in place of regular salt. Typically, salt subs are made from potassium chloride instead. Just note that it does taste a little different and sometimes has a bitter aftertaste so it’s not for everyone.
- Season with herbs and spices. A well rounded flavor profile goes a long way towards making food taste good without a lot of salt.
- Check the ingredients in pre-blended spices to be sure they are salt-free. Cajun seasoning and chili powder are ones that I use often. I purchase from the bulk spice bins at my grocery store because they don’t contain salt in the blend which then allows me to just salt food to taste.
- Use garlic powder and onion powder instead of garlic salt and onion salt.
- Choose low sodium tomato products or make your own. There are often low sodium options available for tomato sauce, tomato paste, diced tomatoes and crushed tomatoes. The other option is to make your own. I have many jars of home-canned diced tomatoes that have either no salt or just a pinch added to them.
- Choose frozen vegetables versus canned if you’re not using fresh. I find that frozen veggies taste better and have a better consistency anyway. Plus, they usually don’t have any salt added. Double check the ingredients list just to be sure.
- Use dry beans instead of canned. Using dry beans does take more time as you need to soak and cook them prior to using in a recipe. If you prefer the convenience of canned, choose the low sodium version of canned beans. Just be sure you rinse and drain your beans to eliminate the extra sodium contained in the liquid they are canned in.
- Avoid MSG. This is a questionable flavor enhancer and many people with meniere’s cite this as a trigger for increased symptoms.
- If using soy sauce, choose low sodium varieties. I use organic low sodium tamari soy sauce. Note this is still high in sodium so if you’re really sensitive to sodium, it might be best to avoid soy sauce altogether.
These are a few tips and tricks that I use to reduce sodium intake while dining out:
- First, choose your restaurant wisely as this will make it easier if you have the choice. Fast food, pizza, Mexican and Asian restaurants are typically the most high in sodium. You can make pizza less sodium rich if you choose a vegetable topped pizza with half the amount of sauce and cheese. Choosing tacos, burritos or other fresh items may work for you at a Mexican restaurant. If dining at and Asian restaurant, request that no added salt, no soy and no MSG be used in your dish.
- Ask if the restaurant has nutrition information available (or check their website in advance). This is the most reliable way to know the sodium content of your meal.
- Avoid the most common high sodium foods in restaurants. Soups, pizza, seasoned rice or saucy noodle dishes, cheese, bread, deli meats and other cured meats like bacon and sausage.
- Consider your condiments. Pickles, olives, ketchup, salsa, salad dressings and most sauces tend to contribute a lot of sodium. For dressings, requesting a simple oil and vinegar and serving it on the side will avoid a lot of excess sodium.
- Watch your sauces. Certain sauces like those including soy, cheese, gravy, broth or au jus, typically contain more sodium. Avoid these or ask for them on the side so you can control the portion.
- Request no added salt. Prepped in advance items may still have added salt but requesting this will at least tell the chef not to add any additional during the cooking process. Requesting fries with no added salt/seasoning is also appropriate for fast food restaurants.
- Make simple special requests. Most restaurants are willing to accommodate simple requests such as dressing or sauce on the side, a half-portion of sauce or to cook with no additional salt.
- Choose menu items that are grilled, poached or broiled. These preparations typically have less sodium but it will also depend on the seasonings and sauces that are added.
- Choose a healthy side. Request steamed or sautéed vegetables (no salt added) or fresh fruit or a salad (with dressing on the side). These healthy foods are naturally low in sodium.
- Choose the salad bar. If the restaurant has a salad bar, this is great way to control what you are eating. Choose vegetables, eggs, and a low sodium dressing like oil and vinegar based dressing.
- Watch out for appetizers. Any food that is breaded, fried or comes with a dipping sauce will often pile on the sodium. Choose appetizers that are fresh fruit and vegetable based or skip them altogether.
My experience with a Low Sodium Diet
I’m going to throw out a disclaimer: I don’t currently follow a true “low sodium” diet but I DO follow a clean eating diet mostly without processed foods. Going on a true low sodium diet (less than 1500 mg per day) didn’t work for me so I now keep my sodium levels within the normal range recommendations by the CDC.
I’ve learned through my experience chatting with others on web forums and through my own series of doctors, that EVERY doctor recommends a blanket statement of treatments for Meniere’s. Eliminate alcohol and caffeine, take a diuretic drug and adopt a low sodium diet. I’m not one for one-size-fits-all recommendations though there are some people who are helped by all of these directives. I, however, was not one of them and lately, I’ve been exposed to more and more individuals who’s experience with diuretics and going low sodium is similar to mine.
My first couple of ENT’s had recommended a low sodium diet of at least under 2000 mg and ideally under 1500 mg per day. I’ve heard of others recommended even lower amounts of under 1000 mg per day. The only real benefit to Meniere’s patients is the slight decrease in blood pressure which IS supported by research studies.
Sodium is a critical mineral in our bodies that allows for normal cellular metabolism and proper fluid volume particularly when it comes to cardiovascular health. Sodium is one of many salts present in our blood and these all need to maintain a proper balance for our heart and lymph systems to function properly. When I began eating a lower salt diet, I didn’t feel much effect on my symptoms unless I had WAY too much (like over 5000 mg in a day or a having a single meal that was over 2000 mg – which is what I had been doing regularly prior to lowering my salt). Lowering my sodium intake into a normal range did help my symptoms to lesson. However, when I tried going truly low sodium (under 1500 mg per day) problems arose as it threw my other blood components out of balance. I ended up in the ER with severe heart arrhythmia and low potassium. This problem was further complicated because I was taking a diuretic which depleted additional potassium and sodium from my blood. I was given orders to consume more natural salts and take a potassium supplement as well as change my diuretic to one that was potassium sparing. This helped but I still had issues with heart irregularities (and still do) anytime I don’t get enough salt in my diet. I ultimately also quit taking my diuretic after I discovered that I actually felt better without it.
Though, I don’t currently follow a specifically “low sodium” diet, I do follow a clean eating diet of nutritious whole foods mostly without any processed foods. I salt my food using mineral rich sea salts or pink himalayan salt and only do so until it tastes good. By doing so, I naturally maintain my sodium intake at a normal level (around 2000-2500 mg per day give or take). I DO think that a low sodium diet has merits for some individuals who’s meniere’s is highly sensitive to blood pressure changes. I do also think it’s worth trying if you haven’t tried it yet… just be sure to listen to your body and if it feels better going low salt, then great! If you sense things aren’t feeling quite right, particularly with your hearth rhythm, then you may need to alter your salt intake to increase it just a bit and be sure you’re getting enough potassium as well.
Research and Info Articles about Low Sodium Diets
An article from Healthline highlighting symptoms to watch for if you choose a low sodium diet.
Diuretic related Side effects article on Medscape.
A series of articles about salt (with research references and citations) by Chris Kresser that I feel are spot on:
- The History of Salt
- The Human Need for Salt
- The Dangers of Salt Restriction
- When Salt Reduction May Be Warranted
- Healthy Salt Recommendations
Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line at kari(at)cookingupclean.com