Ditch the Salt and Flavor Foods with Heart Healthy Citrus!

Lemon, orange, and lime are the most popular citrus fruits used to add a burst of flavor to cooking. These fruits are known for their strong and tart taste, making them a great choice as a salt alternative for those following a low sodium diet.

If you are looking to add a little zing to a dish, be it sweet or savory, lemon, orange, and lime will add a bright, fresh taste-enhancing flavor. This article will give you tips, tricks, and new ideas for using citrus and ditching the salt!

The Need for Low Sodium Flavoring Options

Are you following a low sodium diet for heart failure?  

Are you bored and frustrated with your meals and feeling like they are bland and lacking? 

Are you looking for healthy salt alternatives?

This is one of the most common complaints I receive when counseling people on a low sodium diet. You are likely used to salty foods which is totally normal. And having that taken away due to a heart failure diagnosis can leave you feeling deprived.

I want to assure you that your tastebuds will adjust.  They will!  Even if you were someone who automatically salted everything you ate, you will adjustIt takes time, but it happens.

And, as time goes on, you will find enjoyment in the unique flavors that have previously been masked by salt. On this blog, one of my goals is to offer up options that will make you forget about salt altogether. Lemons, limes, and oranges–citrus fruits– are three healthy salt alternatives for heart failure. 

It doesn’t hurt that adding citrus to foods is good for you and your heart.  Citrus is a natural and healthy choice, with Vitamin C and potassium as well as other micronutrients. You don’t need much. A little bit goes a long way, and citrus is low in calories too. So swap the salt shaker for some citrus fruits and let’s get started!

The Unique Flavor Profile of Lemon, Lime, and Orange

Flavoring with Lemon

Two whole lemons and a slice lemon sits on a white plate placed on a brown wooden table.

Lemon is the most commonly used citrus fruit in cooking, and it’s particularly good when added to sauces, marinades, and dressings. Lemon can help to cut through the richness of oils and fats, making it an ideal ingredient for use in a vinaigrette. It’s also great for marinating savory sides and main dishes. In baking, lemon zest and the fruit of the lemon are used to add a bright and fresh flavor to cakes, cookies, and other sweet treats.

Baking with Lemon

Did you know that salt, which is listed in nearly all recipes for baked goods, isn’t necessary?

It’s not!!! Yes, you can leave it out without affecting the end product at all.  So ditch the salt and add in lemon to enhance all of your baked goods from muffins to pancakes and cookies.  

When you bake with lemon, the high heat removes a lot of the sourness, leaving your baked goods with a gentle sweet taste. Lemon cookies, lemon poppyseed muffins, lemon cake…yum.  *Remember that store bought lemon baked goods likely have a lot of sodium, so it’s best to use your own recipes and make them as heart healthy as possible.

Cooking with Lemon

Lemon is great with just about any vegetable or starchy dish.  (You can add lemon to meats and fish as well, although, as a plant based RD, I don’t have specific information for these dishes.) Lemons are also inexpensive and easily keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

Squeeze lemon over potatoes, zucchini, asparagus, or summer squash before roasting.  Lemon is great in grain dishes like rice and faro.  One of my favorite ways to enjoy lemon is in Mediterranean foods like fava beans, hummus, and cold bean salads.

Lemon pairs nicely with dill, basil, rosemary, parsley, or thymeLemon and black pepper go together nicely as well.  I like Brussels Sprouts, green beans, broccoli, and green peas with dill.  See this recipe on the blog! Healthy Brussels Sprouts with Squash

The absolute easiest way to flavor with lemon is to squeeze it over a dish once it is finished cooking.  Put a plate of lemon wedges on the table instead of the salt shaker.

Lemon Dressings and Marinades

The four elements of a traditional marinade are acid, salt, oil, and spices.  All you need to do for a heart failure friendly marinade is leave out the salt.  You will not miss it, I promise.  

Lemon makes a great “acid component” in marinades. A simple marinade of ⅓ c lemon juice,⅓ c olive oil, pepper, spices, and garlic is super versatile and can flavor just about anything.  

Lemon and olive oil are a fabulous combination for salad dressing. Other favorite lemon-based dressings are lemon poppyseed and lemon tahini.

Tahini is sesame paste.  It’s creamy, delicious, and a great source of heart heathy fats from sesame seeds. For a super quick tahini dressing, whisk the juice of one lemon with a quarter cup of tahini and a couple of tablespoons of water.  Optional add-ins are black pepper, garlic, or red chili flakes.  Tahini dressing can also be used as a sauce for pasta, rice, potatoes, and vegetables.

Mother Raw Organic Lemon Tahini was one of the few low sodium prepared dressings available with most mainstream brands over 200mg per serving.  Mother Raw squeaks in with 135mg of sodium per serving. It is available online at the company’s website.

Mother Raw Organic Lemon Tahini is low sodium with no salt added.

Lemon Zest

Lemon zest gives a gentle, more subtle flavor.  The zest of a fruit is taken by peeling a very thin layer of the skin of the fruit. You can use a potato peeler or a knife; just be sure to avoid as much of the white part as possible as this has a bitter taste. You want the skin and the natural oils of the fruit.

Lemon zest is used in baked goods and sauces.  Make lemon olive oil by adding the zest of a lemon to two cups of olive oil.  Because you have added the zest, the olive oil will go bad if not stored properly.  Place in a container, seal tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Flavoring with Lime

Close up photo of a large display of limes at the grocery store. Ditch the salt for limes.

Lime, like lemon, is tart and sour, making it a popular ingredient in cooking and baking. Lime juice is used in a variety of dishes, including marinades, dressings, and sauces. It’s also a popular ingredient in cocktails, as it adds a tangy flavor to drinks like margaritas, mojitos, and daiquiris. Lime zest is also used in baking, and it’s a great way to add a fresh, light flavor to cakes, cookies, and other sweet treats.

Baking with Lime

I don’t really use lime in breads or muffins, but I do use it in cakes and pies. Lime tea cookies are a yummy low calorie treat.  Here’s a link to a healthier lime cookie recipehttps://heartofabaker.com/vegan-lime-sugar-cookies/. They’re still high in sugar but lower in saturated fat. As always, leave out that salt. You won’t miss it. 

Sauces, Dips, and Marinades with Lime

My absolute favorite lime sauce is a simple mixture of cilantro, lime, and avocado.  Just mash a large avocado, chop up some cilantro, and add the juice of an entire lime.  Thin it with water if you need.  This can also be used as a salad dressing or dip.

For a yummy vegetable-forward lime guacamole, add the juice of a lime to two large mashed avocados. Add chunks of tomato, spring onion, cilantro, and red peppers. Season with smoky paprika. No salt needed!

Make a marinade with olive oil, fresh ginger, lime, cilantro, and red chili flakes. This versatile marinade can go with just about anything.

Brick House Avocado Lime Dressing is the only low sodium prepared option I found with just 39mg sodium per serving.  It’s a little pricey but easily available on Amazon.

Brick House Avocado Lime Dressing is low sodium.

Lime as a Topping

Like lemons, lime wedges can be placed on the table and passed around to squeeze onto a dish. Just about any vegetable can be enhanced with a squeeze of lime.  I tend to prefer lemon on vegetables, though, saving my limes for ethnic dishes.

Pro Tip: Squeeze lime into a bag of unsalted chips.  Use just a bit–you don’t want the chips to get soggy– and shake up that bag!

Lime in Ethnic Dishes

Lime is used extensively in Mexican, Caribbean, Asian–especially Thai dishes. Lime pairs beautifully with cilantro, another feature herb in these cuisines. 

Keep in mind that restaurant versions are likely high in sodium from added salt or soy sauce.  For this reason, you may want to get creative and make your own version.  

Flavoring with Orange

Five oranges sit in a white bowl ready to be used in low sodium cooking.

Unlike its cousins, lemon and lime, orange is not very tart.  It’s the perfect fruit to use when adding sweetness to a dish. Orange is commonly used in sauces, marinades, and dressings, and it’s also a great ingredient for making sweet and tangy glazes for main dishes and roasted vegetables. Orange zest is popular in baking, too.

Baking with Orange

Orange adds a sweet, fruity flavor to cakes, and cookies. In fact, you can add orange to just about any baked good.  I love a good orange cake or scone! Orange pairs nicely with a bit of dark chocolate too. The bitterness of dark chocolate balances the orange. Think orange chocolate chip muffins–yum.  For a stronger flavor, add both the juice and zest.  There are a ton of healthy recipes on the internet that you can adapt.  And don’t forget to ditch the sodium!

Cooking with Orange

The one dish I nearly always prepare with orange is oven roasted carrots. I also use orange in my cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving. While you can certainly cook with orange, I don’t tend to do this as often, so I needed a few more ideas.  A quick internet search showed several recipes for roasted root vegetables with orange, which looked delicious.   

For spices, note that orange pairs well with tarragon or thyme.  I also love orange with cinnamon, clove, allspice, and nutmeg.  This is how I make my sweet potatoes taste like a dessert. 

Orange Sauces and Dressings

Orange salad dressings are great, especially in summer.  Sweet dressings go well with bitter dark greens, so try an orange vinaigrette with kale, chard, or spinach. And orange can be used as the acid in the marinade for any dish. 

My favorite orange sauce is a homemade cashew cream sauce.  You will need a high powered blender like a Vitamix or Blendtech. Otherwise the cashews will not blend into a cream. If you don’t have a high powered blender, use almond butter, peanut butter, or powdered peanut butter like PB2.

To make this sauce, I add an entire peeled orange. Blend this with a half cup of warm water and 1 cup of cashews on high until it makes a cream.  Add in a clove of garlic, 2 Tbsp fresh ginger, and chili pepper flakes.  Blend on low for just a few more seconds and enjoy.

For prepared sauces, every single orange sauce I looked for was super high in sodium. Many are soy based, so the sodium was several hundred mg for a very small serving.  Luckily Mrs. Taste has a Zero Sodium Citrus dressing made with orange.  I can’t find it at the grocery store, but it’s available online for ordering.

Mrs Taste Citrus Zero Sodium has no salt at all.

So Forget About Salt And Get Cooking with Citrus!

Lemon, orange, and lime are excellent ingredients to use when looking to add flavor to a dish. They each have their own unique flavor profiles, making them ideal for a wide range of dishes, both sweet and savory. Whether you’re using juice or zest, these three citrus fruits are sure to bring a bright, fresh flavor to your cooking and baking. 

So try some new recipes, or bring out your old favorites.  Grab a lemon, orange, or lime, and add some “no sodium” flavor to your dishes!

Author sits on screened porch with a bowl of lemons, limes, and oranges to use in low sodium cooking.  Two dogs are pictured to the left. One dog jumps up to smell the lime.
Blooper roll

I hope you enjoyed this article and I hope it inspires you!  I also hope it reassures you that giving up sodium does not mean giving up the enjoyment of food.  There are a lot of healthy sodium alternatives for heart failure patients. Someday I hope to have a full cookbook for you with all of my favorite low sodium recipes!  In the meantime, please sign up for my email list and drop me a note to let me know what you would like to see on the site.


  1. Great Article! I have noticed that lime can really bring out the flavors of a dish especially in asian cuisine. It’s something that you don’t notice until it’s missing!


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