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Americans Advised to Cut Salt, Follow Thirst

Report Lowers Recommended Salt Intake, Eases Water Rules
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WebMD Health News

Feb. 11, 2004 -- A new report urges Americans to drastically cut back on salt in their diet but eases the rules on water intake by saying most people can simply let "thirst be their guide."

But don't drop that water bottle or saltshaker yet.

The report, issued today by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, says that most healthy Americans meet their daily hydration needs by letting thirst be their guide, rather than by following the old "eight to nine glasses a day" rule.

On salt, the report calls for healthy 19-to 50-year olds to limit themselves to 1.5 grams of sodium and 2.3 grams of chloride each day, which is the equivalent of 3.8 grams of salt. Previous government guidelines set the recommended sodium amount at 2.4 grams of sodium. Most sodium in the diet is consumed in the form of sodium chloride (salt).

This recommend intake does not apply to highly active people such as endurance athletes who lose large amounts of sweat on a daily basis. For older adults and the elderly, the limits are 1.3 grams/day for men and women aged 50-70 years and 1.2 grams for those 71 years and older.

The report is the sixth in a series from the Institute of Medicine and contains nutrient recommendations for water, potassium, sodium, chloride, and sulfate. Researchers say the study highlights the fact that the typical American diet is too high in sodium and too low in potassium, which increases the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease.

Fulfilling Your Thirst

The report doesn't specify exact requirements for water intake, but it does make general recommendations of 91 ounces per day for women and 125 ounces for men of total water per day, which actually translates to a few glasses more than eight glasses a day.

But in a change from the past, the panel loosened the requirements on how people can meet those recommendations, allowing caffeinated beverages, such as soda and coffee, and food to count toward total water intake. Although caffeine has been thought to have a diuretic effect, researchers say studies show that effect is only temporary.

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