No matter what stage or situation of kidney disease, sodium is always one of the first things addressed in better caring for kidney health. In following a plant-based diet, snacks often come up for those moments between meals when you get peckish. Packaged snacks can still fit into a renal diet – we just need to look for low sodium snacks!
This article was written by dietetic student Rachael Craig and reviewed by Jen Hernandez RDN, CSR, LDN.
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Table of Contents
What is Sodium?
Sodium is a mineral that is naturally occurring in many foods and is commonly added to foods during the manufacturing process.
It is an essential mineral in the human body as it helps to maintain fluid and electrolyte balance. Sodium is also crucial for normal nerve and muscle functions.
Sodium versus Salt
The most abundant source of sodium in our diet is what we call table salt, which is composed of the minerals sodium and chloride. Sodium is the mineral present in many foods naturally.
Both forms are how we consume sodium in our diets. Simply put, sodium is naturally found in foods, and salt is what we add.
Importance of Sodium
As mentioned, sodium is an essential mineral and electrolyte in the human body. The body needs sodium in order to control blood volume and blood pressure. Also, it is necessary in order to maintain fluid balance and for proper nerve and muscle function.
Because of these reasons, salt is still something that is needed in our diet. However, the challenge is rarely getting inadequate salt in the diet.
Where does sodium come from?
The majority of sodium in our diet comes in the form of sodium chloride, or table salt. Most of the sodium consumed in our daily diet comes from processed foods and dining out.
The remaining amount comes from naturally occurring sodium found in foods and added table salt during the cooking or eating process.
Foods commonly high in sodium
Here are foods you may or may not realize that can be high in sodium:
- Packaged Snacks
- Cured meats
- Salad dressings
- Pickled vegetables
- Canned vegetables
- Canned beans
- Salted nuts
- Fast food
How much sodium is in table salt?
Table salt is approximately 40% sodium and 60% chloride.
One teaspoon of table salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium which is equivalent to the daily recommended allowance for adults. You can see how it would be easy to overdo it with the salt shaker!
How much sodium is allowed on a renal diet?
People with kidney disease or on dialysis have impaired or lost the ability to control their sodium balance. Due to this, it is important to keep a close eye on sodium intake.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend reducing the recommended 2,300 mg per day for adults and children to no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day for those on a renal diet.
According to the National Kidney Foundation’s Kidney Disease Outcomes and Quality Index (KDOQI) guidelines, it is recommended to keep sodium underneath 2,300 mg per day. In doing so, people may experience;
- improved blood pressure
- less proteinuria (protein in the urine)
- better weight management from less edema
What are the risks of eating too much sodium if I have kidney disease?
The kidneys work hard on balancing our fluids and electrolytes, including sodium. When the kidneys are damaged, they may not be able to balance everything.
Too much sodium in the diet can cause fluid retention in the body. This excess fluid buildup can lead to uncomfortable swelling, bloating, and weight gain.
High blood pressure caused by excess sodium intake can lead to heart disease and stroke. This is specifically important for people with kidney disease as they can not eliminate excess fluid buildup from their body which increases the risks of CVD and stroke.
High sodium intake also increases risks for headaches, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and stomach cancer.
Why should I choose low sodium snacks and foods?
Sticking to low sodium snacks and foods will help to decrease your overall daily sodium intake. A low sodium diet will decrease your risks for high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
By having snacks that are low sodium, you’ll make a pretty big change in a small piece of your day.
When you change your snacks from “normal,” high sodium snacks to low sodium snacks, you can cut your sodium intake by hundreds of milligrams every day!
What does low sodium mean on a food label?
Low sodium labeling is used to advertise when foods contain low sodium. Low sodium means that there is 140 mg or less of sodium per serving of the food item. Very low sodium on a food label means that there is 35 mg or less of sodium per serving.
What does reduced sodium mean?
Reduced sodium means that the food product contains 25% less sodium than what the item usually has. Oftentimes the product still contains a lot of sodium, so proceed with caution when it comes to this and make sure to read your nutrition fact labels!
When should I choose reduced sodium?
Choosing reduced-sodium foods and snacks will help to lower your overall daily total sodium intake. Ultimately this will reduce the health risks that come with a high sodium intake.
If you have a favorite snack that doesn’t offer a low sodium option, but rather a reduced-sodium option, that’s a great way to go! Even though it’s not counted as low sodium, it still drops down your sodium compared to the “normal” snack you would have had before.
What is the difference between low sodium, reduced sodium, and “no salt added”?
As mentioned, low sodium means 140 mg or less of sodium per serving. Reduced sodium is 25% less sodium than the original product.
When a label says “no salt added” this means there has been no additional salt added to the food item. Make sure to read your nutrition labels as this does not mean the food item does not contain sodium. It just means that any sodium present is naturally occurring.
Does low sodium mean no flavor?
Absolutely not! There are many ways to add flavor without the salt shaker.
Trying out different herbs and spices is a great way to get the flavor without the added sodium! Many low sodium snacks are just as tasty as the high sodium alternatives. Especially when you remove the guilt that comes with the salt!
Try sprinkling no-salt seasonings and blends like Mrs. Dash onto popcorn, baking into homemade snack mixes, or shaking over some air-fried veggies!
How to cut back on sodium
The best rule of thumb when it comes to cutting back on sodium is to read your food labels!
Sodium adds up quickly so stick to freshly prepared foods as much as possible and try to avoid processed foods and fast food. When snacking on packaged foods, make sure to choose low sodium snacks!
A great rule of thumb for low sodium snacks is to keep it to less than 5% sodium in your snack serving. If you find a snack that is 10%, just take half the serving size to make it 5%.
What about salt substitutes for kidney patients?
Kidney patients need to not only limit their sodium intake but their potassium intake as well. Beware of salt substitutes for kidney patients as they often contain dangerously high amounts of potassium which can actually be worse than the salt!
There are many other alternatives and salt-free seasonings available so read your labels and stay away from salt substitutes!
No sodium snacks
For some on-the-go, no sodium snack options try unsalted nuts and seeds. Throw a few different types together with some dried cranberries for a tasty sodium-free trail mix!
Foods naturally low in sodium
There are plenty of foods that are naturally low in sodium and kidney-friendly. These foods, which can also be used as part of your low sodium snacks, include;
- Fresh fruits
- Fresh vegetables
- Unsalted nuts
- Dry Beans
- Whole grains
Low sodium snacks
Many fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium and make great snack options!
Fruit or Veggies with Dip
It’s always a great thing when we can get in some more fruits and veggies! A tasty dip can make it even more enjoyable by adding more flavor. Since fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium, you’ll just want to make sure your dip is low in salt. Portions are really key here.
Some ideas we love to recommend include;
- Carrot sticks and hummus
- Strawberries and coconut yogurt
- Celery and nut butter
- Mini bell peppers with salsa
- Cucumber slices with cream cheese
- Apples and nut butter
Crunchy, Savory Snacks
As mentioned, many packaged snacks can be packed with sodium. These ideas below are low sodium snacks that are meant to satisfy and keep you feeling good!
- Late July grain free lime and sea salt tortilla chips
- Skinny pop popcorn
- Roasted chickpea snacks*
- Roasted edamame*
- Snap pea crisps*
- Off the Eaten Path veggie crisps
*these snacks are higher in protein
Sometimes, you just want something a little sweet, right? Here are some low sodium snacks that will hit that “sweet spot” without overdoing the salt! And yes, sodium can be a concern even in sweet snacks. Many companies will add salt so they don’t need to add as much sugar.
- KIND bars
- That’s It fruit bars
- Applesauce to-go pouches
- Berries and coconut yogurt
- Purely Elizabeth Grain free granola
- MadeGood rice crispy squares
Low sodium snacks and kidney disease
There are many kidney-friendly low-sodium snack options available. Just make sure you check the label for added phosphates, protein, and potassium content if you need to limit.
The recommended snacks above are still great options for kidney warriors. By keeping portions in snack amounts, they can absolutely fit into a renal diet.
Why are snacks important for the renal diet?
When I focus on a plant-based diet for my kidney patients, there is often a challenge of getting in enough calories. Plants are naturally lower in calories, which can lead to more frequent hunger and the need for snacks to satisfy between meals.
That being said, snacks can really help or hurt your kidney health goals.
Choosing unhealthy or nutrient-poor snacks can make setbacks on your goals or it can propel you in the right direction!
What if I need to limit potassium and sodium?
While many need to beware of too much potassium, it doesn’t mean everyone needs to.
That being said, if you have been told to limit your potassium, stick to options like popcorn, tortilla chips, low-potassium fruits, and veggies. Make sure your packaged snacks are low sodium!
Be careful with high potassium foods like potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, nuts, and seeds. While these can definitely fit into a kidney-friendly diet, they have a lot of potassium. Portions are key!
Read more about a low potassium diet here.
What if I need low phosphorus and low sodium snacks?
If you have been told to limit phosphorus, snacks can definitely make a difference with your phosphorus balance! The first thing you’ll want to do is check the ingredients list to make sure there are no added phosphates.
Some highly processed snacks have added phosphorus, which is not recommended for people with kidney disease.
This means avoiding any packaged snacks (even low sodium snacks) that have phosphate additives such as phosphoric acid or tricalcium phosphate for example
Remember, phosphorus is something that kidney warriors should know about, but it’s not as simple as just looking at the phosphorus content of food.
Where can I find kidney-friendly, low sodium snacks?
Many options for low sodium snacks, low potassium snacks, low phosphorus snacks, and no sodium snacks can be found at your local grocery store or market.
These days, convenience stores also are starting to increase their healthier snack options. This helps to make them more accessible to everyone on-the-go or with limited food options.
You can also check out my amazon store for some of my favorite options, including many of the ideas shared here!
In general, those with kidney disease should keep their sodium intake between 1,500 to 2,300 mg/day. The thought of limiting your daily sodium may seem like a daunting task. However, there are many tasty snacks that one can still enjoy while keeping the sodium intake down.
By choosing snacks that are naturally lower in sodium, like fruits and vegetables, sodium will be less of a hassle to worry about. That doesn’t mean you can’t use packaged snacks. As always, remember to check your nutrition fact labels before indulging. Happy snacking!
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This article was written by dietetic student Rachel Craig and reviewed by Jen Hernandez, RDN, CSR, LDN.