Although sodium is often touted as an evil culprit in the nutrition world, it actually plays several important roles in the body. It’s vital for the regulation of blood volume and blood pressure and helps control proper muscle contraction and nerve impulse transmission. But getting too much sodium can be dangerous -- potentially resulting in high blood pressure, fluid overload, heart disease and organ damage. Keeping your dietary intake within the desired range allows you to reap sodium’s benefits, without battling its burdens.
The United States Department of Agriculture recommends a daily intake of no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium for adults until the age of 50. After age 51, the daily intake should decrease to no more than 1,300 milligrams. Adults older than age 70 should further decrease the daily intake to no more than 1,200 milligrams of sodium. Pregnant and lactating women have no need for increased sodium; the daily intake remains at no more than 1,500 milligrams.
The recommended daily sodium intake for children also varies by age, according to the USDA. From birth to 6 months of age, infants need just 120 milligrams of sodium per day. The daily intake more than doubles for infants age 6 to 12 months; infants in this age range need 370 milligrams of sodium per day. Infants should receive the proper amount of sodium through breast milk or infant formula. From ages 1 to 3, kids need no more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium per day. From ages 4 to 8, the daily sodium intake increases to 1,200 milligrams. After age 9, kids require the same amount of sodium as adults -- 1,500 milligrams per day.
Reading food labels can be a bit tricky when they're peppered with percentages and abbreviations. The USDA sets recommended dietary allowances for most nutrients, which serves as a guide for determining healthy dietary intake. However, when insufficient evidence is available to create an RDA, the USDA sets an Adequate Intake level instead -- which is the case with sodium. An AI is based on “observed or experimentally determined estimates of nutrient intake by a group (or groups) of healthy people,” according to the USDA. Although it's not quite as evidence-based as an RDA, the AI should still serve as a goal for healthy nutrient intake.
Tolerable Upper Intake Level
Along with the Adequate Intake, a Tolerable Upper Intake Level is also determined for many nutrients, including sodium. This amount is the highest daily level that should pose no risk of adverse health effects to most healthy individuals. Most adults should be able to handle 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Most kids can handle up to 1,500 milligrams of sodium until age 3 and up to 1,900 milligrams of sodium until age 8. However, keeping daily sodium intake to the AI level is always recommended.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: What are Dietary Reference Intakes?
- University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources: Sodium
- Baylor College of Medicine: Daily Values vs Nutritional Recommendations for Children
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: Sodium in Diet
- United States Department of Agriculture: Dietary Reference Intakes: Recommended Intakes for Individuals
Krista Sheehan is a registered nurse and professional writer. She works in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and her previous nursing experience includes geriatrics, pulmonary disorders and home health care. Her professional writing works focus mainly on the subjects of physical health, fitness, nutrition and positive lifestyle changes.