Family Focus: Less Sodium for All
Your child probably loves pizza. And how about hot dogs, lunch meat, or cheese? In addition to being many children's favorites, these foods are high in sodium. They contribute to a startling fact: Many children eat as much sodium as adults in the U.S. That's setting the table for serious concerns about children's future heart health.
Sodium is a nutrient that your body needs to function properly. But having too much of it can raise blood pressure, even in children. Prolonged high blood pressure gradually damages the body. It can eventually lead to heart disease and stroke. Children who eat lots of sodium-filled foods may be those most likely to face such health problems in adulthood.
The average daily sodium intake for American kids is 3,387 mg, according to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics. That amount equals what most adults consume in a day. What's more, it's well above what experts recommend: a daily 2,300-mg limit-about 1 teaspoon of table salt.
Where's all that sodium coming from? Don't simply blame your saltshaker. The main sources of sodium in your family's diet likely stem from processed foods and restaurant meals. These are the top 10 types of sodium-filled foods that kids eat:
- Bread and rolls
- Cold cuts and cured meats
- Savory snacks
- Mixed pasta dishes
- Frankfurters and sausage
Even food products marketed to babies and toddlers aren't exempt from excess sodium. A recent study found that many of them are laden with it.
If your family eats a lot of sodium-rich foods, your palates may prefer salty options. Fortunately, you can change those taste buds by gradually lowering the amount of sodium in your family's diet. At the same time, you'll help protect your children-and your whole family-from high blood pressure.
Here are tips to help you curb your family's sodium intake:
- Fill up on fresh foods. That means avoiding processed products, such as instant potatoes, store-bought salad dressing, canned soup and chili, and ready-to-eat meals like frozen lasagna. You can make healthier versions of these foods at home with fresh ingredients and no salt.
- Put away the saltshaker. Cook with herbs and spices instead. They provide flavor without the sodium. Some tasty alternatives: garlic, basil, red pepper, and rosemary. Many stores also sell no-salt seasoning mixes.
- Screen packaged products by the nutrition label. You may find sodium listed as "soda" or "Na." Different brands of food items, such as bread, can vary greatly in their sodium content. Choose products with less sodium. Be sure to check the amount of salt or sodium per serving, because many packaged products contain more than one serving.
- Encourage your children to pass up salty snacks like potato chips or crackers. Give them fun and tasty alternatives, such as fresh fruit popsicles, homemade trail mix with unsalted nuts, and veggie dips made with low-fat yogurt.
- When eating out, order meals that are lower in sodium. Or request that your food be cooked without salt.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.