Sodium Restricted Diets…How low can you go?

salt shakerThere is no denying that most Americans eat far too much sodium.  A diet rich in processed foods is also rich in sodium.  Reducing sodium in your diet (regardless of age, ethnicity or family history) can assist you in lowering your blood pressure.

What exactly does low sodium mean?  I generally consider a diet consisting of ~2400mg/day to be a great goal when aiming for a low sodium target.   That being said, don’t get too excited and totally eliminate all the sodium in your diet.  A recent meta-analysis (1) indicates that going below 1800 mg/day can actually raise your risk of dying.  Of course, that makes sense as our bodies do need some sodium to help manage fluid levels, muscle contractions and nerve function (not to mention improving the taste of our food during aging).

So how much is 2400mg of sodium?  Well, about 1 teaspoon, so not much.  Here are some interesting facts (2) about sodium in the typical American diet:

  • 77% of the sodium in our diet comes from processed foods
  • 12% is naturally occurring
  • 11% is added during cooking or baking

If you are working on meeting a target of 2400mg of sodium in your diet, a great way to get started is to eat more fresh foods (especially fruits and vegetables) and foods that are in season.  These foods usually contain less sodium and are tastier!!

Click here to learn more.  Enjoy!


Salt Image:  Image courtesy of CarlosPorto /

(1) Heart. 2013 Jan 24.

(2) Fast Facts from the FDA

Halt the Salt!

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. <;.

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.