America’s Center for Disease Control released a report on September 9, 2014 detailing the sodium intake by the average child and the bottom line results confirm what most of us already know: Children consume too much salt.
According to the results of the study, the average school- age child consumes about 3,300 milligrams of salt each day. This works out to about 1.5 teaspoons, or about 1,000 milligrams greater than the government recommends.
What Foods Contribute the Most Sodium?
Adding salt to food is one sure way to exceed the government recommendation of about 2,300 milligrams per day. But in reality, most of the excess sodium our children consume each day is not from sprinkling salt directly on food. Rather, it is from the salt already added to processed foods and restaurant foods. The Center for Disease Control study shows that about 43 percent of the sodium kids age 6 to 18 consume each day comes from restaurant food while almost all of the remaining salt comes from processed and packaged foods, including many of the foods popular in school cafeterias.
Fast food restaurants are notorious for adding salt to foods. French fries are an obvious culprit in the high sodium category, but ordinary burgers and chicken nuggets are also high in salt. In the grocery store, foods that rank very high on the salty list include canned soups, frozen meals, snack foods, and most processed foods in general. The reason for the high salt content is that marketing studies show that people like the taste of salt. It adds spice to foods without adding calories. With salt, a food manufacturer can make food taste better while keeping the calories in check.
What is the Risk?
Salt might seem like an innocent addition to foods served to children. After all, when we think of the dangers of sodium to health, we usually think of older adults and the increased risk of hypertension and heart disease. Adults, of course, are the most prone to this risk. But years of processed food and unhealthy eating have led to a surprising level of sodium- related health issues in young people. According to the Center for Disease Control study cited earlier, approximately 17 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 17 have elevated blood pressure. And adding extra sodium to the diet of a child with above average blood pressure is, well, like pouring salt on an open wound.
How Can I Cut Back?
Complete elimination of sodium from the diet is next to impossible and not necessary or advisable, as the human body does need some sodium for normal functioning. But there are ways to drastically cut back on salt intake with a small but determined effort on the part of parents. Here are some suggestions:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables– Yes, it’s the same advice that you hear most anytime that someone offers advice on better eating. But the reason you hear it so much is because it still rings true. A diet with more fruits and vegetables not only controls salt intake, it is beneficial in countless other ways.
- Look for low sodium options– If your child loves, say, canned soup, peanuts, potato chips, or other foods known to be high in salt content, look for lower sodium alternatives. Soup is often sold in reduced sodium varieties and peanuts can be purchased without any added salt, reducing the sodium to zero.
- Cut back on processed foods– In our present age of busy living, we often turn to prepared foods in order to reduce preparation time. This is great for convenience, but these quick, heat and serve foods are often very high in sodium. Cut back when you can and if you still have to serve some of these processed foods, at least look for ones with lower sodium content. Here at Money Saving Parent, we often check the sodium content on frozen meals and are often shocked to discover that some frozen foods have triple or more times as much sodium as others.
- Beware of sports beverages– Drinks designed to help replace water and salt from physical activity are fine when used for that purpose, but should be avoided as regular, daily beverages. The reason is because the sodium content in these drinks is often quite high. From a low sodium diet perspective, these sports beverages are just about the worst thing you can drink.
Modifying your children’s’ diets isn’t easy. It requires work and vigilance on the part of parents and continuous education and example. Alternatives to salty foods do exist and most of them are pleasant enough in taste that it shouldn’t take too much effort to convince youngsters to make the change.
Most parents consume too much sodium also, so a low sodium diet can benefit everyone in the home. Make the changes suggested above and try to limit your child’s sodium intake to no more than the 2,300 milligram government- advised limit for normal, healthy kids. It can go a long way toward improved health in childhood and beyond.
Copyright 2014, Bryan Carey