Seniors and Salt – A Delicate Balance

Chances are, if you are a senior, your doctor has talked to you about your salt intake. Consuming too little or too much salt can have consequences for your health. While all of us need sodium (a component of salt) in our diet, consuming the right amount is a bit of a balancing act.

Sodium is important because it controls fluid balance in our bodies and maintains blood volume and blood pressure. It is also essential for our nerves and muscles to work properly. However, if you eat too much sodium, it may raise your blood pressure and cause fluid retention (such as swollen feet). It can also aggravate high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. In addition, since kidney function decreases with age, seniors sometimes have a difficult time removing excess sodium from their body. This is why it’s so important for seniors to monitor their sodium intake closely and stay within specific guidelines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all people over the age of 50 consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. The Food and Nutrition Board recommends an adequate intake of 1,300 milligrams of sodium per day from ages 51 to 70, and a slightly lower intake of just 1,200 milligrams per day after age 70. (Note that adequate intake means enough to meet proper nutritional requirements.)

Keep in mind that canned, processed and convenience foods contain large amounts of sodium. For instance, four ounces of cottage cheese contains 457 milligrams of sodium, a single frankfurter can contain 639 milligrams. Many people consume much more sodium than they think they are just by eating these types of foods.

The following tips can help you reduce your salt intake:

  • Get in the habit of reading food labels. Items with 400mg or more should be considered high in sodium.
  • Seasoning your food with herbs, spices, pepper, garlic, ginger and similar products instead of salt are an ideal way to reduce your sodium intake.
  • Be aware of your sodium intake at each meal – remember that many foods that do not taste salty may still be high in sodium.
  • Choosing fresh fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods will help lower the amount of sodium you consume.

Cutting down on salt makes sense for most seniors. But be careful using salt substitutes if you are on a low-salt diet. Salt substitutes contain potassium chloride, and too much potassium can be harmful to people with certain medical conditions including kidney disease, diabetes and heart disease. That’s why it’s so important to talk with your doctor before making any significant change in your diet.

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