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Pass by the Salt: Sodium and Older Adults

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This blog post was written by Alexandra Lewin-Zwerdling, PhD, MPA, Senior Advisor with the AARP Foundation.

Diverse older adults at restaurantIt is estimated that older adults (ages 50+) eat more than 3,400 mg sodium each day - greater than 1,000 mg above their recommended levels. These high levels were confirmed by the recent release of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) Report, underscoring the need to pay close attention to our sodium intake. The report reinforced findings that eating too much salt can lead to negative health consequences.

This is especially important for us as we age, giving older adults a unique set of reasons to HOLD the salt. Adults should eat a maximum of about one teaspoon, or about 2,300 mg, of sodium each day, and research shows that aiming for even lower levels - closer to 1,500 mg each day – can benefit those with high blood pressure.

Higher-than-recommended sodium intakes can have serious consequences that are magnified later in life.

With increased age often comes increased salt sensitivity, so high levels of salt in the diet can mean:

Not only that, we lose more calcium the more salt we eat, increasing our risk of osteoporosis. And for those of us looking to keep our brains sharp, a recent study found that excess sodium intake combined with physical inactivity led to a decrease in brain function compared to older adults who ate less salt. Additionally, declines in brain function weren’t seen among physically inactive seniors with lower-sodium diets.

The good news is that small dietary changes can help prevent or reverse these health consequences. Be mindful of what you eat and seek lower-sodium options. AARP Foundation’s recent research highlights how confusing food labels can be – so, next time you’re at the store, turn over the package and check the sodium level. Compare the nutrition facts labels of similar foods and choose the one with less sodium per serving. Fruits and veggies are a great option, too, to help shake (off!) that salt.

Learn the American Heart Association’s quick tips on how to reduce your sodium.

To learn more about AARP Foundation’s work on hunger and food security, visit: www.aarpfoundation.org/foodsecurity