Halt the Salt!
Salt may make our foods more flavorful and delicious, but it is quite shocking how low the recommendations for sodium intake actually are. 51-70 year old males and females should consume around 1,300 mg/day (AI), and no more than 2,300 mg/day1. For those over the age of 70, this intake decreases to 1,200 mg/day (AI). Estimated sodium intakes of males and female ages 51-70 is 3,800 mg/day and 2,600 mg/day, respectively, and 3,200 mg/day and 2,400 mg/day for those over the age of 701!
Most of the sodium in our diet comes hidden in the form of processed foods, including processed meats, snack foods, canned soups, cheese, smoked or canned fish, and salted nuts. The addition of table salt, which consists of 40% sodium and 60% chloride, also contributes to our total intake1.
Sodium is an important mineral needed for the regulation of fluid balance2. However, as individuals age, sodium sensitivity increases and the kidney’s ability to excrete sodium decreases3. Studies have shown that higher salt intake is associated with greater risk of stroke, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease4. Not surprisingly, about 55% of women and 49% of men aged 55-64 are hypertensive and these increase to 74% and 64% by age 65-74, and 84 and 70% by the age of 75 and over4! Salt sensitivity, or the response of blood pressure to an acute change in salt intake, affects about half of these people, meaning salt intake needs to be closely monitored1.
Studies have shown that reduced sodium intake among older hypertensive and normotensive adults can lower blood pressure and the need for antihypertensive drug therapy5. However, it is difficult to change sodium consumption habits as we age because of the decrease in taste and smell experienced as a normal part of aging. In general, food consumption is enjoyable when we can taste the food.
Normal aging actually diminishes total caloric intake because food tastes bland and boring. It is very important for the older adult to consume enough calories to maintain physiological and psychological aspects of the human body. Although nutrient needs decrease in the older adult because of reduced physical activity and metabolic rate. At the end of the day, adding flavor to food, such as salt, to increase calorie intake in the older adult is most important to maintaining function.
Raising awareness about sodium levels in our foods and ultimately helping younger members of the older population make healthier food choices is key. For older adults, eating enough protein and vitamins and minerals is almost more important than obsessing over sodium intake. However, sodium restricted diets are recommended for those with heart disease, since reduced sodium intake is directly associated with lower blood pressure and decreased risk of stroke and cardiovascular problems.
Helpful Handout: Chapter8
1. Bernstein, Melissa. Nutrition for the Older Adult. MA: Jones and Barlett Publishers, 2010. 76-77.
2. “McKinley Health Center – Reducing the Sodium in Your Diet – University of Illinois.” McKinley Health Center – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 2008. Web. 19 Oct. 2010. <http://www.mckinley.illinois.edu/handouts/reducing_sodium_diet.html>.
3. Lichtenstein AH, Ramussen R, Yu WW, Epstein SR, Russell RM, et al. Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults. J. Nutr. 138: 5–11, 2008.
4. Strazzullo P, D’Elia L, Kandala NB, Cappuccio FP, et al. Salt intake, stroke, and cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ. 2009;339:b4567
Brown, Judith E. Nutrition Through the Life Cycle. 3rd ed. Australia: Thompson Wadsworth, 2008. 491-2.
5. Lawrence AJ, Espeland MA, Easter, L, Wilson AC, Folmar S et al. Effects of Reduced Sodium Intake on Hypertension Control in Older Individuals. Arch Intern Med. 2001;161:685-693.