By Natalie Stein

There's no such thing as starting too early when it comes to taking care of your heart. Sodium intake plays a major role in heart disease, as well as blood pressure, kidney function and stroke risk. Foods containing high levels of sodium aren't in short supply--they're everywhere. Because of this it's easy to consume too much without even realizing. Fortunately, there are also an abundance of foods that have little to no sodium. Here is a short list of low-sodium foods to start including in your diet.

Selection of food that is good for the health and
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Rule of thumb: unprocessed, whole foods are usually lower in sodium than packaged, chemically treated foods high in preservatives.

Check Food Labels

Almost all foods naturally contain at least a small amount of sodium. The Food and Drug Administration permits food manufacturers to claim that food is sodium-free if it contains less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving. This quantity is less than 1 percent of the daily recommended value of sodium, which is 2,400 milligrams.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Many fresh fruits and vegetables are sodium-free. Apples, bananas and grapes each contain less than 5 milligrams of sodium per cup. Winter squash, zucchini, corn, and asparagus are examples of sodium-free vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are also high in potassium, which counteract the effects of sodium.

Select Unprocessed Whole Grains

Pasta, rice, barley, oats, and oat bran are all sodium-free. Cook grains in unsalted water, and avoid adding high-sodium condiments/sauces, such as tomato sauce and soy sauce. Most processed breads are high in sodium, and according to the publication "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010," yeast breads are among the top contributors to the over-consumption of sodium. Flour is sodium-free, and you can make your own low-sodium baked goods by reducing the amount of salt added to recipes.

Obtain Protein from Legumes

Beans, peas, lentils, and other plant-based proteins are naturally sodium-free, while meat protein contains high amounts of sodium. Cooked black, kidney, and other beans without salt contain less than 5 milligrams of sodium per 1/2 cup. Soybeans and other soy products, such as tofu, are also sodium-free.

Tip: if using canned beans choose the "low-sodium" options.