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New recommendations underline health importance of reducing sodium intake

The officials said that people whose sodium intake is more than 2,300 milligrams a day should reduce their intake to reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
The officials said that people whose sodium intake is more than 2,300 milligrams a day should reduce their intake to reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.(New York City Health Department/Associated Press)

The National Academies of Sciences released new recommendations on dietary intake of sodium and potassium Tuesday after 18 months of study, and for the first time tied overuse of sodium, which people typically get in salt, to chronic disease.

The officials said that people whose sodium intake is more than 2,300 milligrams a day should reduce their intake to reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

“The more you can decrease the more benefit,” said University of Massachusetts Amherst head of food science Eric Decker, who was one of 13 members of the NAS Committee to Review the Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium.

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The committee reviewed existing research in the United States and Canada, excluding less credible research, Decker said.

The study also made various tweaks to the ideal daily intakes of sodium.

The ideal daily intakes are 110 milligrams for infants 0-6 months; 370 milligrams for infants 7-12 months; 800 milligrams for children 1-3; 1,000 milligrams for ages 4-8; 1,200 milligrams daily for ages 9-13; and 1,500 milligrams daily for ages 14 and older.

Decker said the average adult American is consuming 3,400 milligrams a day, and some people consume up to 5,000.

Sodium lurks in many places in the American diet, particularly in processed, prepackaged, and restaurant foods, the American Heart Association says. For example, an Uno’s “Chicago Classic regular-sized pizza” has 1,470 milligrams of sodium. And a 9.5-ounce “All American double cheeseburger with French fries” at Friendly’s is 2,240 milligrams.

The study also found there is no limit on the amount of potassium it is healthy for most people to consume but lowered the adequate intake numbers suggested from a 2005 study and suggests being cautious with potassium supplements.

Decker said that because there is little risk to eating too much potassium, the committee’s recommendations were pretty close to what Americans typically eat.

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The committee found most people should consume between 2,300 and 3,400 milligrams of potassium a day, but it recommended lower amounts for infants: 400 milligrams daily for infants 0-6 months; 860 milligrams daily for infants 7-12 months; and 2,000 milligrams daily for children ages 1-3.

Decker said it is widely known that food consumption affects health, but more research is needed.

“The frustrating thing about these processes and these recommendations is the government doesn’t really fund the kind of studies and assessment needed for dietary intake,” Decker said. “There just isn’t a lot of good data out there.”

Decker warned that the recommendations might not apply to people with preexisting conditions. People who already have high blood pressure should make sure to reduce sodium, while people with kidney failure should avoid overuse of potassium, for example, he said.


Sabrina Schnur can be reached at sabrina.schnur@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sabrina_schnur.