Sodium is an essential nutrient used by the body to maintain blood volume, regulate water balance in cells, and aid in nerve function. However, too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease - even in kids.
The CDC reports that children ages 6-18 years eat an average of about 3,300 mg of sodium a day before salt is added at the table. Children should consume no more than 2300 mg per day, but those who are African American, hypertensive, diabetic, or suffer from chronic kidney disease should eat only 1500 mg per day since they are at higher risk.
Because salt adds flavor to foods and acts as a preservative, it is used frequently in food processing. This makes processed foods, such as canned goods, frozen meals, and salty snacks higher in sodium compared to fresh or homemade foods. According to the CDC, about 43% of sodium in children's diets comes from these common foods: pizza, bread/rolls, cold cuts/cured meats, savory snacks, sandwiches, cheese, chicken patties/nuggets, pasta mixed dishes, Mexican mixed dishes, and soups.
To reduce your child's intake of sodium, follow these strategies:
- Read nutrition labels to compare products and choose the lowest sodium option.
- Model healthy eating for your children by eating more fresh foods like fruits and vegetables without added sodium.
- Buy plain whole grain rice and pasta instead of ones that have added seasonings. Or, if you buy packaged noodle or rice mixes, use only half of the flavor packet.
- Make your own soups from scratch.
- Use herbs, spices, and salt-free seasoning blends to flavor your food.
- Rinse canned foods that contain added salt, such as veggies and beans. When available, buy low- or reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added versions of these foods.
- Remove the salt shaker from the table.
- Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat, instead of high-salt canned or processed meats such as hot dogs or bologna. Buy fresh and frozen poultry or meat that hasn't been injected with a sodium-containing solution.
- Choose ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, breads and baked goods that are lower in sodium.
Parents can help their children learn to choose and eat lower-sodium foods by offering them at home. Keep offering healthy, less-processed, low-or no-salt foods to your kids so they will learn to eat and enjoy them.