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Hospital Food Often Exceeds Recommended Sodium Levels

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Hospital Food Often Exceeds Recommended Sodium Levels

A recent study carried out in three Ontario hospitals showed that meals served to patients often exceed the recommended daily intake levels for sodium.

A recent study carried out in three Ontario hospitals showed that meals served to patients often exceed the recommended daily intake levels for sodium. The study results, published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine, are shocking, considering that hospitals are serving the most vulnerable among us.

What are recommended sodium levels?

Age group

Adequate intake (AI) per day

Upper limit (UL) per day

1 to 3 years

1, 000 mg

1,500 mg

4 to 8 years

1,200 mg

1,900 mg

9 to 50 years

1,500 mg

2,200 mg

51 to 70 years

1,300 mg

2,300 mg

over 70 years

1,200 mg

2,300 mg

Source: Health Canada

What the researchers found in hospitals

The researchers from the University of Toronto and Mount Sinai Hospital analyzed 84 standard menus for regular, diabetic, and sodium-restricted diets as well as 633 regular, 628 diabetic, 973 3000- and 2000-mg sodium patient-selected menus. They found that the mean sodium level in the standard menus (where patients didn’t select their meal choices) was 2,896 mg. That’s at least 1,400 mg higher than adults need in a day.

  • The standard menus all exceeded the adequate intake level of 1,500 mg per day for adults, but 86 percent also exceeded the tolerable upper level of 2,300 mg per day (about a teaspoon of salt).
  • Amazingly, when patients who were supposed to be on sodium-restricted diets (those with heart, liver, or kidney disease) chose their menu items, 47 percent exceeded the 2,000 mg limit that was prescribed for them.
  • When diabetic patients chose their own food, 99 percent of their menus exceeded the 1,500 limit and 95 percent were over the 2,300 mg level.

The study authors suggest the increased sodium levels in patient-selected menus may have been a result of larger quantities of food ordered.

What the researchers said

The study’s authors wrote, “We demonstrated that hospital patient menus contain excessive levels of sodium. ” They added that, “Our findings highlight the need for sodium-focused food procurement and menu-planning policies to lower sodium levels in hospital patient menus.”

The researchers also pointed to the growing evidence of “unhealthy food environments” in health care institutions, including long-term care facilities (where a recent study found that meals could contain up to 4,390 mg of sodium per day).

They highlighted other challenges such as high sugar and fat content, excessive portion sizes, fast food restaurants on hospital premises, and widespread reliance on vending machines that offer unhealthy snacks and sodas.

On a positive note, they suggested that hospitals, in banning cigarette smoking many years ago, set a standard that demonstrated leadership. Setting standards for hospital food service, they said, will serve an equally important role in establishing the importance of good nutrition in maintaining health.

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