Back in 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) released guidelines on the recommended sodium intake for children, but recent research has shown it may not have had any effect on the U.S. public.
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that children in the U.S. are consuming far too much sodium. The recommended sodium intake for children ranges from 1,900 milligrams per day (mg/day) to 2,300 mg/day depending on age. Now, results from the study show that children are consuming 3,256 mg/day on average! Nearly 90 percent of the children who participated in the study exceeded the sodium recommendation for their age group.
Published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, research involved analyzing the eating habits of over 2,000 children between 6 and 18 years old. “Sodium reduction is considered a key public health strategy to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases nationwide and this study is the latest in ongoing CDC efforts to monitor U.S. sodium intake,” lead author of the study Zerleen S. Quader, MPH, a data analyst with the CDC Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, said in a statement published in AlphaGalileo. .
So where is all this sodium coming from? The number one culprit is the food we buy in the grocery. Fifty eight percent of sodium-laden foods were purchased in the grocery store, the study notes, with pre-packaged snacks and processed food to blame. Though not as significant as store-bought food, fast food also shares the guilt where kids get 16 percent of sodium.
“Sodium increases blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body, creating an added burden to your heart,” says the American Heart Association (AHA). In children, this ups their risk for heart failure, stroke, stomach cancer and kidney disease in their adulthood.
Specific recommendations for salt intake for babies and kids are as follows, according to the National Health Service (NHS) of the U.K.:
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Less than 12 months – less than 1g of salt a day (less than 0.4g sodium)
1 to 3 years old – 2g of salt a day (0.8g sodium)
4 to 6 years – 3g of salt a day (1.2g sodium)
7 to 10 years – 5g of salt a day (2g sodium)
11 years and over – 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium)
For babies, the rule is to not add any salt whatsoever in their food because their kidneys are not yet ready to process it. For kids, it gets a little trickier. It can be challenging to monitor the sodium intake since salt in dishes vary, and it depends on how the food was made and prepared. But, as with everything you buy in stores, check the label. “The best way to reduce sodium intake from these products is to check the nutrition facts panel on packages and look for no-salt-added or lower-sodium versions,” said Quadar.
Check the label for the figures for sodium. If it’s 0.6g of sodium per 100g, that’s already too much, according to the NHS. If the sodium content is given as figures for salt, a simple computation can be done: just divide the salt figure by 2.5 to get its sodium content. With that you know that 2.5g of salt per 100g is the same as 1g of sodium per 100g (which is, by the way, way too much sodium following the NHS recommendations.) If the figure is in milligrams (mg), simply divide the figure by 1,000 to get it in grams (or, if you remember your grade school math, move three decimal places to the right).
When cooking or adding salt to dishes, the AHA estimates that 1 teaspoon of salt contains 2.3g of sodium, which means a 3/4 teaspoon of salt has 1.7g. Then, 1/2 teaspoon has 1.1g and 1/4 teaspoon has .5g. As a reminder, when adding salt to dishes, make sure the salt is iodized as iodine deficiency is considered one of the most important health issues in the Philippines, according to the Department of Health. Look for the “Saktong Iodine sa Asin” quality seal in table salt packages.
In addition to comparing ths sodium in labels and limiting the the amount of salt you add in dishes, here are a few more tips on how to reduce the salt and sodium in your child’s diet, from to the CDC and NHS: 1. Go for fruits and vegetables. Hunting for an afternoon snack for the kids? Reach for fruits and vegetables as they’re not only loaded with nutrients and rich in fiber, they’re also naturally low in sodium. 2. Try herbs and spices. If you’re worried your homecooked meals will have less flavor now with less salt, try mixing things up with herbs, spices and vegetables. Pinoy favorite herbs include dahon ng sibuyas, wansoy, kinchay and tanglad. 3. Don’t give non-baby food to babies. This includes breakfast cereals, fries and chips which can be very high in salt.
“Making sure your child doesn’t eat too much salt means you’re also helping to ensure that they don’t develop a taste for salty food, which makes them less likely to eat too much salt as an adult,” says the NHS.