by Marianne Halterman
Do you know how much sodium is in your diet? How about in your children’s diets? The latest release of the USDA’s recommended Nutritional Guidelines, January 2016, suggests that we limit adult intake of sodium to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. That’s the amount of sodium in 1 teaspoon of regular table salt (Sodium Chloride, NaCl) , folks. And for children, it’s less than that! For optimal heart health, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends adults consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day… and that is about 3/4 of a teaspoon of table salt. One quarter of a teaspoon of salt contains approximately 575 mg sodium. Now, the AHA and the medical community are asking us to “Shake the Salt Habit!” 1 This may be very important for kids’ sakes! Some sodium in our diets is good and important for our bodies. Our body’s fluids require a balance of sodium and water. Too much or not enough of either is bad and can prevent our body from working properly; too much sodium in some individuals can cause higher blood pressure and fluid retention in body tissues.
The American Heart Association calls Americans’ “normal” intake of sodium in the form of salt, “excessive”. 2 AHA observes that much of that sodium comes in processed foods. This is just one more reason it’s good to get in the habit of reading the labels on processed and packaged foods. Snack foods are among the worst for loading us up with sodium. A popular brand of cheese crackers’ label indicates one serving contains no cholesterol… but does contain 230 mg of sodium which is 10 percent of the daily “requirement” (or in sodium’s case, recommended daily limit), that is 27 crackers (less than an inch square in size) or about one handful. Snacks aren’t the only culprit; following them in line are bread, rolls, pizza, soups, cold cuts, cured meats, poultry, condiments, sauces, frozen meals and sandwiches, many of which find their way into children’s meals and lunch boxes.
The American Heart Association notes that on average children, between the ages of 2 and 19, consume an average of 3,100 mg of salt per day, that boys from 2-19 consume more sodium than girls, anywhere up to 4,220 mg/day, to girls’ average of 2,950 mg/day. AHA says this is way too much. They also note, “Factors contributing to higher blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke begin in childhood. The rate of high blood pressure is increasing in American children. More than 1 in 8 children aged 12-19 are at high risk for having (or already have) high blood pressure.” 3 Eating salt-laden foods and snacks also contributes to childhood obesity.
So, what do we need to do, as parents, family members and caregivers to start kids on a path to healthier eating, so that they can expect long, healthful lives? How can we shake the salt habit? We can add herbs and spices to improve the taste of food, instead of adding salt during cooking. We can remove the salt shaker from our meal table. We can rinse canned vegetables prior to cooking. We can choose healthy snacks in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables. We can add more fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and fish to our families’ diets, and cultivate the taste of foods without added salt that comes from processing. For more tips on living with less salt, go to the American Heart Association’s website, www.heart.org
1 American Heart Association, “Shaking the Salt Habit: Why is it bad to have too much sodium?”, 7272 Greenville Ave., Dallas, TX 75231, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/Shaking-the-Salt-Habit_UCM_303241_Article.jsp#.VrESTLIrIgB
2 American Heart Association, “Answers By Heart”, 7272 Greenville Ave., Dallas, TX 75231, https://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@hcm/documents/downloadable/ucm_300625.pdf
3 American Heart Association, “Sodium Science: The Facts About Kids – Sodium Break Up!”, 7272 Greenville Ave., Dallas, TX 75231, http://sodiumbreakup.heart.org/sodium-411/sodium-science-fact-versus-myth/