Tweens consume too much salt - here's what parents can do about it

An article published in Pediatrics today found that American tweens and teens are consuming too much salt.

Studying kids ages 8-18 years old, researchers found that kids consumed approximately 1,000 milligrams more salt than they should have.In the study, the kids' studied had about 3,300 milligrams daily.  The recommended daily salt or sodium intake for kids and adults is no more than 2,300 milligrams, which is about one tablespoon.

I'm not surprised that kids go for salt. My tween loves her salt, always has.  As a young child, she was once given the choice of a potato chip or a cookie, and that toddler dove for the salt without hesitation.  I was, however, a bit surprised that the study found that tweens ate as much salt as the average adult.

Consuming too much salt can lead to high blood pressure in kids, just as it does in adults.  Moreover, researchers found that if a child is overweight and eats as much salt as an adult, the risk for high blood pressure goes up dramatically. Overweight kids tend to be more sensitive to salt's effect on the body, according to the study.

Although that similar reaction in kids and adults seems obvious, studies on salt, weight and blood pressure are scarce in children.

What should tween parents do?

  • Be aware of sodium. It seems concern about sugar and fat have stolen the spotlight, and sodium has fallen down the list.  But this study and the press it is receiving may elevate salt consciousness when it comes to kids' food.  Processed foods make up around 80 percent of people's salt intake, researchers say.  It's  hidden in all kinds of foods, including those you don't expect.  Here's a list of food with unexpected sodium. One that surprised me: breakfast cereal.
  • Make your tween aware. Have your kids guess how many milligrams of salt they consumed in a day, and then have them calculate the actual amounts. I'll bet you're all surprised. Look - bonus math practice, too!
  • Watch the fast food.  I know, this one is tough. Tweens love McDonalds. LOVE it. And with their busy schedules, the drive through is a pretty fabulous time saver.  I'm not advocating that we give it up completely, but it's worth knowing what sodium is in the food.  The McDonald's nutrition info on their website is very user friendly. But one Big Mac has 1,000 milligrams of salt. My tween's favorite meal is McNuggets and fries.  The nuggets have 540 mg of salt. Medium fries with ketchup has 370 mg. Knowing that such a meal accounts for nearly 1/2 my tween's salt intake for the day will help me balance the rest of her diet with non-salty items.
  • Fruits and veggies.  I know, it's obvious. But remember that a lot of time salty foods have a satisfying crunch, and so do crisp apple slices or a myriad of veggies.
  • Keep your kid active.  The more active they are, the healthier kids are.  The study showed that the kids who were not at healthy weight were more susceptible to the negative effects of the salt.

Do you and your kids love salty foods?

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