Let thirst be your guide

March 16, 2005|by Lynn Little

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

· Water. 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 the vast majority of healthy people get enough fluids by using thirst as their guide. Water is a good choice for staying hydrated; however, other beverage choices such as juice, milk, coffee, tea and soda also count toward your daily fluid intake.

Over the years, it has been thought that beverages containing 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 noncaffeinated options. About 80 percent of people's total fluid intake comes from drinking water and other beverages, with the other 20 percent coming from food. Water found in food contributes to our total daily water consumption.


Prolonged physical activity and heat exposure cause increased water losses and might raise daily fluid needs. People who live in hotter climates or who exercise strenuously might need extra water but still should let thirst guide their daily fluid intake needs. As we age, the ability to detect thirst decreases; therefore, older adults should make sure they are drinking enough fluids throughout the day, not just depending on thirst to guide their intake of fluids.

· Sodium. Americans generally consume too much sodium (found in salt and other preservatives) in their diets. Increased sodium intake might 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. Older adults should strive for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day because they might be more susceptible to health problems such as increases in blood pressure. It is a good idea to skip the temptation to shake extra salt on your meals and snacks.

Many prepared and processed foods are high in sodium, so check food labels for sodium content.

· Potassium. 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-fat and nonfat dairy products and lean cuts of meat and poultry. These foods as part of your regular diet offer a double benefit. Not only are these foods relatively low in sodium, they also are high in potassium. While we might be eating too much salt, we are not getting enough potassium in our daily diets.

Potassium is an important nutrient because it helps to lower blood pressure, prevent bone loss and reduce the risk of developing kidney stones. The nutrition experts are recommending a daily potassium intake of 4,700 milligrams per day.

Eating more fruits and vegetables is an easy way to increase potassium intake. Fruits and vegetables high in potassium include spinach, cantaloupe, almonds, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, bananas, oranges, grapefruit and potatoes. Potassium also can be found in dairy products, beans, peanut butter and coffee.

It is important to consult with a health-care provider before significantly increasing your potassium intake. This is especially true for people who have kidney dysfunction or Type 1 diabetes or are taking ACE inhibitor drugs, certain diuretics or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

By increasing your intake of fresh, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat and nonfat dairy products and lean meats and poultry, you can lower your sodium and increase your potassium intake.

For a sample menu to use as a guide to drink enough fluids and to keep your potassium intake at 4,700 milligrams and your sodium intake between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams, send a self-addressed, stamped business-size envelope to Maryland Cooperative Extension - Washington County Office, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713. Mark the envelope, "Menu."

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer scuences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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