UF/IFAS: reduce sodium intake to age friendly

tablespoon of salf
By Jason Tuinstra on Unsplash

Last time, in our “Age Friendly” series, we talked about how the roadblocks that can prevent us from making healthier choices in our daily life. One healthy choice we can make: limit our sodium intake. 

Just like calcium, sodium is an important mineral and can be found naturally in some foods. In the American diet, sodium primarily comes from salt (sodium chloride), according to the National Institute of Aging.  The issue is, how much is too much? We all need some sodium in our diet, but consuming too much sodium over time can put you at risk for high blood pressure, which can increase you risk of a stroke, heart disease or kidney disease. 

Think about your salt intake. Do you keep a salt shaker on your kitchen table? Do you salt your food before you even taste it? Do you enjoy hot dogs, pizza and “fast food”? Well, you might need to rethink these food choices, especially when it comes to having too much sodium in your daily diet.  

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But, how much is too much? 

According to federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020 – 2025, if you are 51 years or older, you should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams (or, 2.3 grams) each day. How much is 2,300 mg? It’s about 1 teaspoon of salt. 

But, that’s not just the salt you add to your foods and cooking. That 2,300 mg includes the sodium in frozen meals, pizza, canned items, processed meats such as lunch meats, hot dogs and other ready-made foods you purchase at the store. 

Skip or scrimp? 

So, how can we avoid the extra sodium? It’s important to take the time to read the federal Nutrition Facts label on the product to guide you on how much sodium you are actually eating in a day. But, a word of caution here. Nutritional needs change for older adults, according to the Food and Drug Administration, the agency behind the labels. For example, people age 50 years or younger can consumer 2,400 grams of sodium per day, but the recommendation for people age 51 and up is just 1,500 mg. So, make sure to check the actual milligrams of sodium on the label, and keep to the amount recommended for people 51 and older.  

It’s also recommended that individuals diagnosed with high blood pressure or prehypertension limit their sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day, or about 2/3 of teaspoon.  

What steps can you take, then, to decrease your daily sodium intake? Here are some healthy suggestions. 

  • Prepare your meals at home without using a lot of processed foods. 
  • At the grocery store, select products that are labeled “low sodium,” “unsalted,” “no salt added,” “sodium free,” or “salt free.”   
  • Use less salt in the meals you prepare at home. 
  • Consume highly processed foods less often. 
  • Taste your food before reaching for the salt shaker. 
  • Eat fresh foods more often. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables not only provides more nutrients, but they also taste great.  
  • Just like we’ve been saying, small steps lead to bigger and bigger changes. Gradually decreasing the amount of sodium in your diet will help you get used to the difference in taste, and you will begin to actually taste the food instead of the added salt. 

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