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Jan 28, 2015

Study Questions Strict Sodium Guidelines for Older Adults

Reducing sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg a day may be excessive for older adults.

Reducing sodium intake to fewer than 1,500 mg a day may be excessive for older adults, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

It’s well-established that consuming too much salt can lead to high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease and heart failure. That’s why the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that anyone over the age of two should limit salt intake to less than 2,300 mg a day and that some groups of people, including adults over 51, should further reduce sodium intake to 1,500 mg daily. According to national surveys, adults 51 years and older consume 3,100 mg of sodium per day on average and fewer than 2% of adults in that age range meet current sodium recommendations.

To assess the benefit of strict sodium intake in older adults, researchers used data from the Health, Aging and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study, which included more than 3,000 adults in their seventies. Researchers collected information on health and diet from participants at the start of the study and followed individuals for 10 years, tracking outcomes such as heart disease, heart failure and death.

After analysis, investigators found that sodium intake was not significantly associated with risk of heart disease, heart failure or 10-year mortality. However, consuming more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day was associated with greater risk of death, but findings were not considered statistically significant.

Authors believe their findings warrant further investigation into the benefit of strict sodium restriction among older adults. Not only do few older adults adhere to current guidelines that limit sodium intake to 1,500 mg a day, it’s difficult for older adults to change long-standing dietary habits. If there is little difference between limiting salt intake to 1,500 mg and 2,300 mg a day in older adults, such strict sodium restriction may not be necessary. However, that’s not to say that limiting salt intake is not important in older adults. Studies show that high sodium intake is dangerous for young and older adults alike, and reducing sodium intake is an important part of a heart-healthy diet.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can too much salt be harmful to your health?

  • While some salt is necessary to maintain the proper balance of fluids in the body, too much salt causes the kidneys to retain water, which increases blood volume and pressure and puts a strain on the heart. These effects can cause hypertension and significantly harm those with pre-existing heart problems.
  • What can I do to reduce my sodium intake?
  • Most of the sodium you get each day comes from processed foods rather than salt you use in cooking and at the table. Here are some tips to help you shake the sodium out of your diet: 

    • Avoid prepared foods. High sodium foods include:

      • Salty snacks such as chips and pretzels
      • Canned soups and sauces
      • Cured meats such as bacon and ham
      • Foods packed in salt water such as pickles, olives, and canned tuna
      • Frozen pizzas and dinners
      • Fast food

    • Use fresh foods whenever possible. Good choices include:

      • Fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables without added salt
      • Fresh meats, fish, and poultry rather than cooked or prepared items
      • Herbs and spices as seasoning instead than salt

    • Learn to read food labels.  Look at the “Nutrition Facts” panel on the label of packaged foods. This will tell you how much sodium is in the food.  When figuring out your sodium intake from the food label, keep in mind:

      • The milligrams (mg) listed is per serving. It is not for the whole package.  If you eat more or less than what they consider one serving, you’ll have to do the math to figure out how much sodium you are getting.

      • The percent of daily value (% DV) is based on 2400 mg a day, not the recommended 1500 mg. That means the sodium in a serving is a higher percent of your daily limit than what is listed on the label.

    • Choose carefully in restaurants. Restaurant food is high in sodium. Some ways to eat out and still keep your sodium level under control include:

      • Having your meal prepared without added salt
      • Asking that sauces, gravies, and salad dressings be served on the side
      • Selecting fresh vegetables, fruits, and salads and plain meats or fish from the menu

Featured Video

Processed foods are responsible for 75% of the excessive sodium consumed by Americans.

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