The older you get, the more important it is to watch the amount of sodium creeping into your diet.
We asked Lisa, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) at Acts Retirement-Life Communities, and Jonathan, the Regional Director Culinary and Nutritional Services for Acts Retirement Life Communities, to share their secrets for maintaining a healthy low-sodium diet.
Are You at Risk?
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that those 51 and older average about 3,000 mg of sodium every day. That’s twice what the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends we should consume. Too much sodium can increase risk of a heart attack and stroke.
“The body does actually need sodium, but it’s a very delicate balance,” said Lisa. “Too much sodium causes your body to retain water, making the heart and blood vessels work harder.
“This could cause an elevation in blood pressure, which over time damages the blood vessels’ wall. An increase in blood pressure is a common risk factor for heart disease and stroke.”
Before you think I hardly ever add salt to my plate at the dinner table, consider this: most of our sodium intake (75 percent) comes from processed foods and restaurant meals, not the salt shaker.
Nutrition Tip: Naturally occurring sodium is in foods such as celery, beets and milk, but 90 percent of the sodium consumed is in the form of salt.
Looking for more ways to improve your overall physical health? Click here to view 7 must-do exercises for seniors!
Tips for Maintaining a Low Sodium Diet
1. Read nutrition labels – and don’t be deceived by the % Daily Value.
Paying closer attention to ingredient labels is key to finding out how much sodium you’re really consuming, but sometimes it can be deceiving. Do not to get fixated on the percentages on the label.
Nutrition Tip: Most nutrition labels suggest about a teaspoon of salt, or 2,400 mg of sodium, as a daily limit. But that is about 1,000 mg more than what the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the AHA actually recommend.
You may also be surprised by the amount of sodium in foods that do not taste salty, like cereals and bread. Manufacturers add sodium to these items to extend their shelf life.
How do you avoid these salty traps? Try eating more fresh fruit. Start your day with fresh fruit instead of a bowl of cereal. Beware of packaged vegetables with sauce, canned produce, soup, and deli meat.
How do you make a healthier sandwich? Lisa suggests cooking fresh turkey breast instead of adding sliced deli turkey to a sandwich, which could be loaded with preservatives.
2. A simple request could make a huge difference when eating out.
Eating out can be tricky on a low-sodium diet. Food served in restaurants are very high in sodium because salt is often added in stages during the cooking process to enhance the flavor of foods and other spices.
Nutrition Tip: When you dine out, try ordering dressing on the side, or a half-portion of sauce. Don’t be afraid to request your order without added salt. It won’t remove sodium present in the already prepared ingredients, but it will avoid any extra during the cooking process.
A simple request could make a big difference in your daily sodium intake. A basic restaurant salad can sometimes pack more than 900 mg of sodium. These “healthy” meals could easily sabotage your low-sodium efforts.
All 22 of Acts Retirement-Life Communities offer a low-sodium soup selection and fresh, steamed unsalted vegetables daily for residents who wish to lower their sodium intake. When dining out, ask your server to point out similar low sodium options. It’s one of the many ways resort-style retirement living can benefit senior health. Click here to read 7 additional ways living in a retirement community benefits senior health!
3. Make smarter choices at the grocery store without skimping on flavor.
We already discussed how packaged, processed foods are the biggest “no, no” if you’re striving to maintain a low-sodium diet. Limit sauces, mixes, and “instant” products, including flavored rice and ready-made pasta.
If you must buy processed food, find “low sodium” versions of your favorite brands.
What qualifies an item as low sodium? According to the Food and Drug Administration, a product must have less than 140 mg of sodium per serving to be considered low sodium.
Nutrition Tip: Condiments are packed with sodium – pickles, ketchup, BBQ sauce, soy sauce, salsa, and salad dressings. Eat smarter by choosing the sodium-free or low-sodium versions, or swap them for naturally lower-sodium options like mustard, flavored oils, hummus, and citrus juices.
Jonathan suggests using citrus-blended spices, like lemon-pepper, to intensify the flavor. This can make a small amount of salt go a long way.
Jonathan recently held a cooking demonstration for people interested in lowering their sodium at Edgewater Pointe Estates, a retirement community in Boca Raton, Florida. Residents sampled a variety of spices on healthy items such as steamed zucchini. The lemon pepper seasoning was a crowd favorite, followed by Italian seasoning.
Nutrition Tip: If low sodium soups and sauces taste too bland, it’s better to add salt to taste at the table than eating the sodium-rich versions. One study found that when eating foods reduced in sodium, people only add back about 20 percent of the sodium that was originally in the food when allowed to use the salt shaker freely.
4. If all else fails – drink water!
If you are unable to manage your sodium intake to the degree you would like, or you are visiting a family member’s house and you don’t want to be rude by asking them to prepare a separate low sodium meal for you – drink water! Water will not reverse all the effects of high sodium intake, but it will help. Click here to read about the importance of hydration.