Monday, October 28, 2013

3 Steps to Keep Your Kids Safe from Sodium Excess

Adults may worry about having high blood pressure, but excessive sodium is dangerous for kids, too.

Close-up of potato chips
Processed foods tend to contain a lot of sodium.

Adults may worry about having high blood pressure, but excessive sodium is dangerous for kids too. A study published in Pediatrics journal last year revealed that American children are consuming a whopping 3,387 milligrams of sodium a day on average.

That's far more than the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommended limit of 2,300 mg per day and the American Heart Association recommended limit of 1,500 mg per day. This level of sodium intake increases a child’s risk of high blood pressure, especially for overweight or obese children. Sodium intake also leads to calcium loss, a concern for bone development in children.

One explanation for the high levels is that many packaged foods marketed to children are processed with a lot of added sodium. While some foods naturally contain sodium, the more processing a food undergoes, the higher its sodium content tends to be. Here’s a sampling of the sodium contents of some foods commonly marketed to children and teenagers.

1 bottle Carnation Breakfast Essentials Rich Milk Chocolate Drink 230 mg
1 cup Cheerios 160 mg
1 cup Lucky Charms cereal 238 mg
1.5 ounce bag (lunchbox pack)Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers 360 mg
Turkey + Cheddar Lunchables with Smoothie 560 mg
1 Danimals Crunchers: Strawberry Flavor with Chocolate Grahams 94 mg
1 bottle Gatorade G Series 400 mg  

You can take charge of the sodium in your child’s diet with these steps:

  1. Check nutrition labels carefully. Aim for foods containing 140 mg per serving or less when possible. As shown in the table above, even sweet foods can contain lots of sodium.
  2.  Cook more meals from scratch, using fresh ingredients and products with no salt added. If using canned vegetables, try to rinse them before adding to your recipe.
  3. Save sports drinks for adult athletes. Unless your child is involved in intense sweat-inducing activities, they likely don’t need an electrolyte-replacing drink.

By Sylvia Pong, Bastyr dietetic intern, and Debra Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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