Eating Well As You Get Older

Frequently Asked Questions

21. Should I limit the amount of sodium I consume?

The body needs sodium, and the usual way people get it is by eating salt. But people tend to eat more salt than they need. If you are 51 or older, you should limit your sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams daily (about 2/3 of a teaspoon of salt). That includes all the sodium in your food and drink, not just the salt you add. Keeping your salt intake low helps to keep your blood pressure under control. Keeping your blood pressure under control can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease.

Ways to cut back on sodium include

  • keeping the salt shaker off the table
  • replacing salt with herbs, spices, and low-sodium seasonings when you cook
  • eating fewer snacks and processed foods such as luncheon or cured meats
  • asking for low-sodium dishes and for sauces on the side when you eat out.

Read the Nutrition Facts label on food packages to find out how much sodium a product contains. Choose foods labeled "low sodium," "reduced sodium," "sodium free," or "unsalted." Different brands of foods that look the same can contain very different amounts of sodium.

(Note: The FDA recently proposed updates to the Nutrition Facts label to reflect the latest scientific information linking diet and chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease. Proposed updates include a new design that better highlights key parts of the label such as calories and serving sizes.)

A diet rich in potassium can reduce the effects of salt on blood pressure. Older adults should consume 4,700 milligrams of potassium daily from food sources. Sources of potassium include fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes, white potatoes, greens, beans and peas, and tomato products. Potassium is also found in all yogurt and milk -- including low-fat and fat-free versions -- and in fish such as halibut, Pacific cod, yellow fin tuna, and rainbow trout.