September 17, 2012
1 min read

Hospital meals contain excessive amounts of sodium

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Most meal options at three Canadian hospitals, including those for regular, diabetic and sodium-restricted menus, exceeded the tolerable upper level of sodium intake, according to data published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

“Guidelines for lowering sodium levels in hospital settings have recently been published but largely focus on consumer food service outlets rather than on foods served to inpatients,” JoAnne Arcand, PhD, RD, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Toronto, and colleagues wrote.

The analysis included 84 standard-unselected menus for regular, diabetic, and 3,000-mg and 2,000-mg sodium-restricted diet prescriptions at three acute care hospitals in Ontario from 2010 to 2011. The researchers also evaluated sodium content of 633 regular, 628 diabetic, 630 3,000-mg and 343 2,000-mg sodium-restricted patient-selected menus.

Results revealed a mean sodium level of 2,896 mg in standard-unselected regular menus, 100% of which exceeded the adequate intake level of 1,500 mg per day and 86% of which exceeded the tolerable upper level of sodium of 2,300 mg per day.

All of the standard-unselected diabetic menus examined exceeded both the adequate intake and upper level, with a mean sodium level of 3,406 mg.

Of patient-selected regular menus, 97% exceeded the adequate intake and 79% exceeded the tolerable upper level. Of patient-selected diabetic menus, 99% exceeded the adequate intake and 95% exceeded the tolerable upper level.

Sodium levels in the restricted diet menus generally fell within recommended ranges, although mean sodium level in patient-selected menus was significantly higher when compared with standard-unselected menus for the 2,000-mg sodium-restricted diets (2,041 mg vs. 1,504 mg; P<.001). Additionally, 47% of patient-selected menus exceeded the 2,000-mg restriction compared with 10% of standard-unselected menus (P<.001).

“Based on the growing reliance on prepared and processed foods in the hospital setting, our findings highlight the need for sodium-focused food procurement and menu-planning policies to lower sodium levels in hospital patient menus,” the researchers concluded.

  • Arcand J. Arch Intern Med. 2012;doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.2368.
  • Dr. Arcand receives fellowship funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Program in Public Health Policy.