Tips for Seniors

How Much Sodium Do Seniors Need in Their Diets

Jan 1, 2014

Although salt and sodium often get a bad reputation in the health and nutrition industry, a small amount of the nutrient is necessary for proper body functioning. Sodium helps maintain fluid balance in the body and is crucial for nerve impulse conduction and muscle contraction. But too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Since kidney function decreases with age, seniors might have a more difficult time removing excess sodium from the body, so they must be particularly cautious of dietary sodium intake.


Adequate Intake

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. The AI is the amount of sodium that should meet a healthy senior’s nutritional requirements.


Tolerable Upper Intake Level

Rather than focusing on the AI, most people try to stay within the Tolerable Upper Intake Level set by the Food and Nutrition Information Board. The UL is the highest daily intake of sodium that should pose no major health risk to healthy seniors. It is the amount of sodium they should be able to safely consume on a daily basis. The UL for sodium is 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.


CDC Recommendations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes a different approach to the recommended upper intake level for sodium. The CDC recommends that all persons over the age of 50 consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day — which is closer to the Adequate Intake than the Upper Intake Level. Keeping your sodium intake below this reduced recommendation is particularly important if you are also African American or have chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure or diabetes.


Reducing Intake

Just 1 teaspoon of salt contains about 2,325 milligrams of sodium. So if you’re following the CDC’s recommendation, a senior should have no more than 2/3 teaspoon of salt per day — which can be a fairly difficult rule to follow. Many seniors rely on processed, pre-made and canned foods to make meal preparation easier and more convenient. Unfortunately, these types of foods tend to be loaded with sodium. To reduce daily sodium intake, limit your intake of deli meats, pasta and rice mixes, frozen meals and spice blends. Drain and rinse all canned beans and veggies before using them. Choose low-sodium soups whenever possible and use spices and herbs to season your food, instead of salt.


Salt Substitute Dangers

Potassium chloride tastes very similar to sodium chloride, so it’s often used as a salt substitute. While it might be an effective technique for reducing sodium, it can actually be quite dangerous — particularly for seniors. As the body ages, the kidneys become less efficient at removing excess potassium from the body. If potassium levels become too high, it can lead to dangerous heart problems and potentially fatal complications. Seniors should always consult a physician before adding salt substitutes to the diet.