Sunday, April 20, 2014
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Is your child eating too much salt?

It may come as a surprise, but the amount of sodium that kids eat now could raise their risk of heart disease later in life. Nutritionist Beth Wallace offers some tips on how to reduce salt in your family's diet.

Is your child eating too much salt?

It’s no surprise that eating too much sodium, or salt, can increase your blood pressure as an adult.  However, it may come as a surprise that the amount of sodium that children eat can affect their blood pressure even at a young age. 

Earlier this year and for the first time ever, the World Health Organization made recommendations to limit the amount of sodium children consume.  Depending on their age, size, and energy needs, recommendations for children ages 2-15 were a maximum of 2000 mg per day.

Why is this such a concern for young children?  Believe it or not, more and more children are being diagnosed with typical “adult health conditions” at a younger age.  Because the cumulative effect of high blood pressure over the years raises the risk of stroke and heart disease, decreasing the sodium intake in children at a young age may help to delay the onset of diet-related health conditions.

New research indicates that even if you have taken the salt shaker away, it may not be enough for you or your children.   Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s research showed that about 75 percent of ready-to-eat toddler meals contain high amounts of sodium.  Children as young as one were regularly eating typical toddler snack foods that were considered “high sodium,” containing more than 210 mg per serving.  Sodium continues to be widespread in our general food supply, even in typically healthy foods like chicken, cereal, and bread. Outside of the home, while many restaurants are being more conscious about the sodium content of their meals, many single dishes still contain over half of a day’s requirement.

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So what’s a parent to do? 

  • Transition your taste buds slowly: like many things, changes take time.  Start by cutting the amount of salt you use in your cooking in half and rinse any canned vegetables to gradually cut back.  Your taste buds won’t miss the salt as much if the transition happens over time.
  • Look at the label: Try to pick “low sodium,” or “no salt added” products.  Look for kid’s items with less than 150 mg of sodium per serving, and aim for the sodium to be lower than the calories in the product.
  • Eat processed foods in moderation: It’s inevitable to have some days where sodium seems to be the first ingredient on the menu.  If you’re headed to cheer on the Phillies, or have a big family barbeque, try to balance the rest of your day with unprocessed foods at home.
  • Load up on fruits and vegetables: Add another reason to make half of your plate fruits and veggies…they are loaded with potassium to help regulate your blood pressure.  Foods like sweet potatoes, bananas, beans, leafy greens, and oranges contain high levels of potassium
  • Drink plenty of water: Many processed beverages, including milk, will add to your family’s total sodium intake.  Keep those water bottles full to hydrate without the additives.

Read more from the Healthy Kids blog »

Beth Wallace Smith, RD Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
About this blog
The Healthy Kids blog is your window into the latest news, research and advice around children's health. Learn more about our growing list of contributors here.

If you have questions about your child's health, ask them here.

Anna Nguyen Healthy Kids blog Editor
Stephen Aronoff, M.D., M.B.A. Temple University Hospital
Christopher C. Chang, M.D., Ph.D Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Jefferson Medical Colg
Mario Cruz, M.D St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Drexel University College of Medicine
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. Lead Psychologist - The Anxiety Behaviors Clinic, CHOP
Gary A. Emmett, M.D. Director of Hospital Pediatrics at TJU Hospital & Pediatrics Professor at Thomas Jefferson Univ.
Lauren Falini Bariatric exercise physiologist, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
Hazel Guinto-Ocampo, M.D. Nemours duPont Pediatrics/Bryn Mawr Hospital
Rima Himelstein, M.D. Crozer-Keystone Health System
Anita Kulick President & CEO, Educating Communities for Parenting
Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA VP for Programs & Research for Prevent Child Abuse America
Beth Wallace Smith, RD Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D. Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Jefferson Medical Colg
Flaura Koplin Winston, MD, PhD Scientific Director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention
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