New guidelines for water, salt and potassium intake of Americans

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Nutrition experts from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies have released new guidelines for water, salt and potassium intake of Americans.


Remember the recommendation to drink at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of water per day? The new guidelines do not give a set amount of water to consume on a daily basis, but state that Americans get enough fluids just by using thirst as their guide. While water is a good choice for staying hydrated, other beverage choices such as juice, milk, coffee, tea and soda also count toward your daily fluid intake.

It used to be thought that beverages that contained caffeine (like coffee, tea or sodas) did not contribute to a person's daily fluid intake of liquids, but the panel argues that these beverages contribute just as much to the daily fluid intake as non-caffeinated options. About 80 percent of people's total fluid intake comes from drinking water and other beverages, and the other 20 percent comes from food. That's right - water found in food contributes to our total daily water consumption, too.

People who live in hotter climates or who exercise may need extra water but still should let thirst guide their daily fluid intake needs. With the aging process, the ability to detect thirst decreases; therefore, older adults should make sure they are drinking enough fluids throughout the day.


Americans generally consume too much sodium (found in salt and other preservatives) in their diets. Increased sodium intake may cause high blood pressure in some people. Because of this, the panel of nutrition experts recommends that people get at least 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day but no more than 2,300 milligrams per day. However, older adults should strive for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day because they may be more susceptible to health risks such as increase in blood pressure.

You may think that 2,300 milligrams is a lot of sodium, but it can add up fast. Many prepared and processed foods are very high in sodium, so check food labels for sodium content. The best way to lower the amount of sodium in your diet is to eat more fresh, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, low- and non-fat dairy products and lean cuts of meat and poultry. It is also a good idea to skip the temptation to shake extra salt on your meals and snacks.


While Americans may be eating too much salt, we are not getting enough potassium in our daily diets. Potassium is a very important nutrient because it helps to lower blood pressure, prevent bone loss and reduce the risk of developing kidney stones. The recommended daily potassium intake has been increased from 3.5 grams per day to 4.7 grams per day. Eating more fruits and vegetables is an easy way to increase potassium intake. Foods high in potassium include spinach, cantaloupes, almonds, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, bananas, oranges, grapefruits and potatoes. Potassium can also be found in dairy products, beans, peanut butter and coffee.

Some people may need to consult with a health care provider before significantly increasing their potassium intake. This includes people who have kidney dysfunction, type 1 diabetes and also those taking ACE inhibitor drugs, certain diuretics or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

These recommendations may seem complicated; however, by increasing your intake of fresh, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, low- and non-fat dairy products and lean meats and poultry, you can lower your sodium and increase your potassium intake. You'll also get plenty of the other nutrients you need.

For more information on the new guidelines for water, salt and potassium, read Healthy Heart Beats Newsletter, March/ April 2004, on the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Web site at

For additional information about nutrition for the older adult, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension fact sheet on Nutrition and Aging is available at your local Extension office or on the Web site at ;

Additional information on Healthy Aging can be found on the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Web site at Go to online info, then select Consumer and Family and then Healthy Aging.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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