Chicken nuggets. Bagel bites. Ketchup. Burgers. Tacos. A lot of these foods are staples of American kids’ diet. These foods also contain copious amounts of salt, which when consumed in excess increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report yesterday that “nearly all Americans regardless of age, race, and gender consume more sodium than is recommended for a healthy diet, and the excess intake is of great concern among particular youths.”
One in nine children between the ages of eight and 17 now struggles with high blood pressure.
The CDC studied the eating habits of 2,142 children between ages six and 18, and they found that children are consuming an average of 3,256 milligrams a day, not including salt from the salt shaker. Recommended intake is closer to 1,900 mg for younger children and 2,300 mg for teenagers. As a result of increased consumption, one in nine children between eight and 17 struggles with high blood pressure.
Children consume different levels of salt, depending on the meal. Dinner contributes the largest percentage of daily intake — a surprising 39 percent. The biggest culprits for excess salt include 10 popular foods: pizza, Mexican dishes, sandwiches (including burgers), breads, cold cuts, soups, savory snacks, cheese, plain milk, and poultry.
The fault lies only partially with fast food consumption, apparently. Researchers found that the majority of high sodium content comes from food purchased directly from the grocery store, not fast food restaurants or school lunches. This report exposes the high-sodium epidemic in the American diet. The problem isn’t specific brands — it’s the entire category of breads, cheese, soups, and so forth. Cutting out the saltine crackers isn’t going to do the trick.
“It’s surprising how much sodium content for the same food type can vary by product,” said Zerleeen S. Quader, lead author of the study, and a data analyst with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, in a media release. “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.” Quader recommends parents look for options that contain less than 140 mg of salt per serving.
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“It’s also important to expose young kids to foods flavored with limited salt because taste preferences for salt (and sugar) develop early on,” said Jennifer Glockner, creator of the Smartee Plate series, based in Los Angeles. “These taste preferences persist as adults. Studies show that repeated exposure to less salty foods eventually changes taste preference. Be patient and keep trying.”
Glockner suggested using other flavors to create savory dishes, such as “herbs, spices, citrus, and aromatic veggies” like garlic, onions, and celery.
Manufacturers add sodium mostly during the processing of foods, so teaching children to read labels early on is key. “Role modeling and involving kids in the shopping and cooking process, as well as repeated exposure to minimize salt consumption, may help with picky eaters,” she told LifeZette. She also encouraged parents to get creative and swap out unhealthy foods for less salty alternatives.
“Also, teaching and providing healthier alternatives to salty snacks, such as replacing salted potato chips with air popped popcorn (without salt and butter), may help.”