Most American children, like American adults, eat more than the recommended amount of salt. Is that something to worry about? Is salt bad for kids?
The American Heart Association reports that high levels of sodium in kids’ food can lead to high blood pressure in adulthood. It can also result in a taste for salty food which increases in the teen years and can stick with your kids all their lives.
Infants get all the salt they need from breast milk or formula. Their kidneys aren’t ready to cope with more salt than that, and they can’t metabolize salt well. What’s more, they haven’t learned to enjoy the taste of salt. Don’t add any salt to food you prepare for your baby.
Kids 2 and up
Controlling salt intake for infants is easy. Just don’t add any salt to their food. When they begin to eat the same food as the rest of the family, though, it gets complicated.
The American Heart Association tells us that kids get most of their salt from processed foods, from pizza to potato chips, sandwiches with cheese and salty meats to burgers and tacos.
Cooking meals at home from fresh foods is generally better for your health than buying processed foods. If this is a habit you’re working on, salt intake is one more reason to cut back on highly processed food.
Keep the salt shaker off the table, too. Kids already get too much salt from packaged and restaurant foods. Offer kids healthy snacks like fresh fruits and veggies, and use herbs and spices to liven up the flavor of fresh fish and chicken in your meals.
Kids from 12 to 19 eat the most salt among American children. They’re likely to be snacking on chips when they’re with friends and eating fast food or processed food for a lot of their meals. Often, this is when kids develop a salt habit that’s hard to get away from later in life.
Teach kids to read nutrition labels and balance salty foods with less salty options. Make sure fresh fruit and vegetables are readily available, since teens often eat at different times from the rest of the family.
Picking up burgers or tacos on the way home from sports practice is a tradition — or a cherished convenience — for lots of families. If that’s not going to change at your house, make sure that other meals maintain a balance between salty food and less salty food.
Breakfast can include oatmeal made from rolled oats and fresh or dried fruit. Snacks can focus more on spices than on salt. High potassium foods like bananas can help keep blood pressure under control.
As you reduce salt in your family’s food, you’ll find that the natural flavors of your foods are more appealing. You won’t enjoy highly salted foods as much as you did before, and you’ll discover delicious new tastes. It will be good for your health as well as your kids’ health.
Give yourself time to change the salt habit. It will be worth your while!