It’s not that surprising that a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that children were eating almost as much salt as adults every day. Whether it’s McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets (540 mg per 6-piece serving) or a serving of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (560 mg), the foods that many parents find most convenient and palatable to feed their children contain very high amounts of sodium. And it’s leading to an increase in rates of high blood pressure at an early age.
The CDC study examined the sodium intake of 6,235 children between the ages of 8 and 18. The study subjects had their blood pressure measured, their weight taken, and they provided detailed information about what they ate each day, from which researchers calculated their sodium intake. The children were found to eat an average of 3,387 mg of sodium every day, only slightly below the adult average of 3,466 mg per day, which itself is far above the government’s recommended daily intake of 2,300 mg.
Approximately 15 percent of the children were found to have either pre-hypertension (slightly elevated blood pressure that is the precursor to hypertension) or high blood pressure. Obese children who ate the most salt were three times more likely to have high blood pressure than children with low sodium intake. High blood pressure is a major contributor to the incidence of heart disease and stroke, and when combined with obesity, it significantly raises the risk of contracting these diseases.
The typical American diet is full of processed food, which is where much of the sodium is concentrated. Only about 10 percent of our daily sodium intake comes from the salt shaker. Food manufacturers add sodium to their products to increase their flavor and extend shelf life, and this done whether that food is for adults or children. Oscar Meyer’s Lunchables contain 870 mg of sodium, more than a third of the recommended daily salt intake.
The best way to protect your children from getting too much sodium in their diet is to avoid feeding them processed food, whether it’s packaged snacks or fast food. Have cut-up fresh fruit or veggies like carrot sticks on hand for when they come home, and keep snacking to a minimum. The more meals you cook from fresh ingredients the better. Preparing fresh foods for your children’s meal does not have to be labor-intensive and it will guarantee that your child is not one of the 15 percent who is at greatest risk of contracting a chronic disease before they reach adulthood.
While it is important to keep the sodium from processed foods to a minimum, you should also be sure you do not cut too much salt from your child’s diet. Salt is integral to the healthy functioning of the body, but buying a different kind of salt may help reduce your sodium intake. Almost all salt in processed food is refined, meaning that it is pure sodium chloride that has had the potassium, magnesium, calcium and other trace minerals stripped from it. It’s precisely these trace minerals (that are not removed in unrefined salts such as celtic sea salt or gray salt) that add significantly more flavor, which allows you to use less of it to achieve the same effect.