Read This Before Giving Your Kids the Salt Shaker9 months ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 90% of U.S. children ages 6-18 years eat too much sodium daily. The CDC also reports that 1 in 6 children (aged 8-17 years) have high blood pressure (hypertension).
Although sodium is an essential nutrient (it is an electrolyte that helps regulate blood pressure and enable muscle and nerve cells to function properly), overall most Americans consume way too much sodium, putting them at a higher risk of developing heart disease.
And with this issue of high sodium intake starting at such an early age, it means that more young people will likely be unhealthy before they even enter adulthood. Poor health may very well continue into and throughout adulthood if something is not done.
Reportedly, around 75 million Americans have high blood pressure.
“Anyone, including children, can develop high blood pressure. It greatly increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, the first and third leading causes of death in the United States,” reports the CDC.
Too much sodium affects proper functioning of the kidneys, which affects proper functioning of the heart.
“In most people, the kidneys have trouble keeping up with the excess sodium in the bloodstream. As sodium accumulates, the body holds onto water to dilute the sodium. This increases both the amount of fluid surrounding cells and the volume of blood in the bloodstream,” reports Harvard Health.
“Increased blood volume means more work for the heart and more pressure on blood vessels. Over time, the extra work and pressure can stiffen blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. It can also lead to heart failure.”
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. But on average, many Americans eat more than 3,400 mg each day. (The CDC says U.S. children ages 6-18 years eat an average of about 3,300 mg of sodium a day, which is well above the recommended amount).
“Consuming excessive salt during childhood is associated with cardiovascular health risk factors…,” according to one report.
To make matters worse...
Eating salty foods during early life appears to increase a taste preference for salty foods later in life.
But the good news is we can be proactive and protect our children’s heart health by using fun, educational strategies to reduce their salt intake.
A study was done which involved more than 100 children ages 7-10 (of varying socioeconomic levels). These children completed web-based interactive education sessions about dietary salt.
And it sounds like the education sessions were not only interactive but fun.
“The detective-themed stories included animated comics, interactive activities, and video content,” the report said, in regards to the learning material. “Support material included a printed detective logbook and parental resources.”
And “being a detective” is important when it comes to making smart food choices. You have to take the time to read food labels when you are at the grocery store and look up nutritional information through online resources such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
These educational sessions lasted just 20 minutes and delivered the following key messages:
- Stop using the salt shaker
- Switch to low salt foods by checking food labels
- Swap processed salty foods for healthier, low salt alternatives
The children completed a survey “on salt-related knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors” before they completed five weeks of the web-based lessons. After the lessons were completed, they completed another survey about dietary salt.
Here were some of the results…
- There was a 19 percent reduction in the proportion of children who reported that a salt shaker was placed on the table.
- When a salt shaker was not present, salt usage by children was reduced 25 percent compared to 70 percent who reported adding salt when a salt shaker was on the table.
- Improvement was also shown in children's self-reported belief that they could change their behaviors to eat less salt.
One thing we can take away from this study? In order to change any behavior about our health or the health of our families, we have to be committed to obtaining the necessary information about those things that affect our health as well as the health of our families.
You’ve likely heard us say, “An informed patient, is a healthier patient.”
And remember that being educated about health is empowering.
"Feeling empowered to make nutrition-related decisions is particularly important in shaping children's behaviors," said one of the lead doctors on the study. "It was encouraging that children could be motivated through interactive web-based activities."
Children these days are technologically savvy more than children have ever been. Why not use this to improve their health?
So how much sodium should your child have?
There are varying reports, and it really depends on the child (especially if the child already has high blood pressure or other cardiovascular health risks). But many sources say a toddler should have no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.
Another general guideline:
- Ages 4 to 8, less than 1,900 mg
- Ages 9 to 13, less than 2,200 mg
- Ages 14 to 18, less than 2,300 mg
Consult your pediatrician or a competent healthcare professional. And keep in mind, most children do not have to worry about having too little sodium. In general, sodium is not a nutrient you have to worry about not getting enough of, like calcium and vitamin D.
How else can you be proactive about reducing your child’s salt intake?
- Encourage your kids to reduce the intake of or avoid processed foods, like chips and frozen pizzas. Don’t buy these types of snacks or keep them in your home. Instead chop up fresh fruits and vegetables, which are nutrient-dense and naturally contain sodium. You can also make homemade snacks, like oven-baked sweet potato chips, for healthy alternatives to processed snacks which flood our grocery stores.
- Spice it up. You don’t need salt for added flavor. Use spices and herbs, like basil or cumin, for flavoring food. Some research has also shown that herbs and spices may be the secret ingredients to getting kids to eat more vegetables.
- Meal prep with your kids. More involvement is associated with healthier food choices. Remember, we have to empower our children when it comes to them taking the reins on their health.
- Make sure your child is getting enough potassium. This mineral may help combat negative effects of salt. Bananas, potatoes (especially their skins) and kidney beans are some foods that are rich in potassium.
Whenever you can, make nutrition and health related matters fun. A little fun doesn’t hurt. It might even help.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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