We like foods sweet and we like them savory. Sweetness comes from sugar, specifically the glucose molecule, and we’ve covered the role of too much sweetness in our diets many times previously on The PediaBlog. Today we turn to our savory taste buds, where salt (sodium chloride or NaCl) is the ingredient we seek. New research confirms that the typical American diet contains way more salt than is recommended. This poses a serious problem, especially for children, because sodium in the diet is associated with hypertension (high blood pressure), which is a major risk factor for the development of heart disease and stroke. Approximately 17% of American children between ages 8-17 years have elevated blood pressure. We examined this subject more than two years ago when we found that more than 90% of American children are eating too much salt every day:

90%! Yikes! That’s practically everyone. What and who’s responsible for this health “time-bomb” include the usual suspects: processed (packaged) foods, people in the food industry who promote them, and parents who allow their children to eat these “food products” regularly, as if they are “real” food.

The daily nutritional requirement of sodium has been established at less than 2,300mg per day for children and young adults. That’s equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of salt per day. For adults 51 and older, for African Americans (of all ages), and for people with high blood pressure, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease, sodium should be restricted further: 1,500mg per day. And yet this CDC study says that the majority of Americans, including 90% of children, are eating 3,300 mg of sodium per day!

 

Robert Preidt reviewed data from a new study:

The researchers analyzed 2011-2012 data from more than 2,100 children, aged 6 to 18, nationwide. The kids’ average salt intake was 3,256 milligrams (mg) a day, not including salt added at the table, the investigators found.

Recommended salt intake for children varies from 1,900 mg to 2,300 mg a day, depending on age.

The researchers also found that average levels of salt intake were especially high among teens aged 14 to 18 (3,565 mg daily).

Girls had much lower daily intake than boys — 2,919 mg a day versus 3,584 mg a day, according to the report.

 

The CDC says children eat more sodium as the day goes on: 15% at breakfast, 30% at lunch, 39% at dinner, and 16% in snacks. Where does the salt come from? From common foods, processed foods, and restaurants:

About 43% of sodium eaten by children comes from just 10 common food types: pizza; bread and rolls; cold cuts and cured meats; sandwiches like cheeseburgers; snacks, such as chips; cheese; chicken patties, nuggets, and tenders; pasta mixed dishes, such as spaghetti with sauce; Mexican mixed dishes, such as burritos and tacos; and soup…

Most sodium is already in food before you buy it or order it. About 65% comes from store foods, 13% from fast food and pizza restaurant foods, and 9% from school cafeteria foods.

 

So about 90% of children in the U.S. eat too much salt on a daily basis and about 17% of children already have high blood pressure, which computes to a lot of future heart attacks and strokes when children reach adulthood. We know that food preferences and eating habits are formed very early in life, which makes this public health issue a parenting issue. What can we do to reduce our salt consumption? We’ve covered that too:

  • Read food labels (!) and remember the limits listed above.
  • Eat more fresh foods — especially fruits and vegetables. Remember: if you can’t identify where a food came from (an apple came from a tree; a carrot came from the ground; a hot dog — do you really know where that came from?), then it is, by definition, processed, and most likely loaded with sodium, sugar, and chemicals that belong in a chemistry lab, not in your “food.”
  • Limit sodium-laden sauces and condiments like soy sauce, salad dressings, tomato sauces, and dips.
  • Use less salt in homemade recipes. Don’t add salt to food once it is prepared. (Remove the salt shaker from the table!) Use herbs and spices instead of salt to add flavor to food.
  • Rinse canned vegetables before using, or buy frozen vegetables (no sauces added) instead.
  • Don’t eat out as much. (Get handy in the kitchen!) While some restaurants post nutritional information about the food they serve, they really don’t care about the sodium, sugar, or calories you are consuming at any given meal.
  • Reduce portion sizes. (What a concept! Yet many Americans struggle with this.)

 

 

(Google Images)