What Caregivers Need to Know About Sodium Intake

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016 10:33 am EDT


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Caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s often requires paying close attention to their nutrition and making adjustments as needed for the betterment of their health.

As dietary guidelines for seniors continue to change, and more research is conducted, it’s especially important to become more mindful of how we manage our loved ones’ diets.

Nutrition scientists from Tufts University recently provided an updated MyPlate for Older Adults based on the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and FDA officials issued new guidelines regarding sodium consumption. Both encourage Americans to decrease their sodium intake and find salt alternatives to help improve their health and prevent premature illnesses and deaths.

Researchers have discovered older Americans are more susceptible to cognitive loss as a result of high sodium intake than their younger counterparts; this is especially true for inactive seniors.

Truth is, shopping for groceries for someone with Alzheimer’s can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. Caregivers often rely on convenience foods, but eliminating processed foods out of our diets is the easiest way to reduce sodium.


Identifying High-Sodium Food


FDA officials point to processed and prepared foods as a core contributor to declining health among aging adults. High sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Packaged and prepared foods such as ready-to-eat products or restaurant meals are common sources of high sodium meals. Even if a packaged food doesn’t taste salty, it may be high in sodium, which is why you should always check the reference label before purchasing.


Groceries like breakfast cereals, sliced bread and salad dressing seem logical when planning for your loved one’s diet since they don’t taste salty, but these items are in fact very high in sodium. It’s important to reference nutrition labels since using taste alone is not an accurate way to determine a food’s sodium content.


When shopping for canned goods, the risk of buying an item high in sodium is that much higher. Canned vegetables may be perceived as a healthy option, but in reality have high levels of sodium. Instead, opt for vegetables that are fresh, frozen or low sodium/no-salt-added canned vegetables.


Benefits of a Healthy Diet and Exercise


As people age, it’s important to incorporate healthy eating and exercise into their lifestyle. Inactive seniors are at risk for increased health issues – especially if their diets include foods rich in sodium. Increased exercise, coupled with a low-salt diet, could delay continued cognitive impairment. Consider adopting methods from diets that benefit both body and your brain. For instance, research has revealed that the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. A recent study of the MIND diet found participants who followed the guidelines closely for an average of four and-a-half years, had the greatest cognitive impact. Unlike other diets studied, even moderate observance of the MIND diet resulted in significant reduction in dementia risk.


Resources and Tools from MyPlate.gov


MyPlate is a nutrition platform that offers tips to help families work toward a healthier eating style. According to MyPlate, older adults should begin any change in their diet by making small shifts in food and beverage choices to improve their overall eating pattern, and then continue to build on them.

As a health professional specializing in senior care, I rely heavily on MyPlate to help shape nutrition plans for our residents. The most crucial tips to follow to help reduce the amount of sodium you eat and drink daily includes:


  • Use the Nutrition Facts label to compare the sodium in packaged foods and beverages;

  • Buy low-sodium, reduced sodium, or no-salt-added products;

  • Look for fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables without added sauces or seasonings;

  • Choose fresh or frozen poultry, seafood, and lean meats instead of prepared or ready-to-eat products;

  • Cook more often at home to control the sodium in your food; and

  • Add herbs and spices instead of salt to recipes and dishes- spices like oregano, rosemary and thyme can help you eliminate the excessive use of sodium, while enhancing a delicious dish.

  • If you need inspiration for healthy meals that follow the new guidelines, check out my roundup of the most popular recipes for each MyPlate category that makes cooking with these guidelines simple and delicious.


Remember as we age, so do our taste buds and the effects are especially noticeable when seniors are coping with Alzheimer’s disease. While it’s okay to have a treat once in a while, in order to protect your loved ones from unhealthy levels of sodium, make sure you are incorporating fresh produce and encouraging plenty of hydration. Get creative, read nutrition labels closely and stay positive.


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