A Salty Minefield for Parents

Dec 13, 2012 | Updated Feb 12, 2013

Most people who are concerned about too much sodium -- mostly from salt -- in the diet probably think that it poses a risk only to grown ups, or perhaps only senior citizens. But one reason that parents of even young children should be concerned about salty foods is that many adults' food preferences are shaped in childhood. Food manufacturers and restaurants are ensuring that many children of today will be the hypertensive adults of tomorrow by loading up popular foods, such as macaroni and cheese, chicken noodle soup, and hot dogs, marketed to children, with unconscionably high levels of salt and other sodium-containing additives. Reducing the salt content in kids' foods would help train kids' taste buds to enjoy less-salty foods in childhood and as adults.

A second important reason to limit sodium in children's diets is that too much sodium can boost the blood pressure of even little tykes. That puts those kids on the road to high blood pressure and an increased risk of stroke and heart disease.

In a recent study by the CDC, researchers found that kids are consuming 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily -- about twice the recommended limits (1,200 mg is recommended for 4- to 8-year-olds and 1,500 mg for 9- to 13-year-olds). To lower your child's sodium intake, the most important thing is to limit processed and restaurant foods. Only about 11 percent of our salt comes from the shaker; the vast majority is engineered into the chicken nuggets, the Lunchables, the Hot Pockets, and other foods that manufacturers have created.

Investigators from the Center for Science in the Public Interest recently toured the supermarket and found a very salty minefield that parents must navigate on behalf of their children. (The sodium levels in most restaurant meals also are often high; that's a matter we'll return to in the future.)

A Salty Minefield for Parents

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