It's no surprise that eating too much sodium, or salt, can increase your blood pressure as an adult. However, it may come as a surprise that the amount of sodium that children eat can affect their blood pressure even at a young age.
Earlier this year and for the first time ever, the World Health Organization made recommendations to limit the amount of sodium children consume. Depending on their age, size, and energy needs, recommendations for children ages 2-15 were a maximum of 2000 mg per day.
Why is this such a concern for young children? Believe it or not, more and more children are being diagnosed with typical "adult health conditions" at a younger age. Because the cumulative effect of high blood pressure over the years raises the risk of stroke and heart disease, decreasing the sodium intake in children at a young age may help to delay the onset of diet-related health conditions.
New research indicates that even if you have taken the salt shaker away, it may not be enough for you or your children. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's research showed that about 75 percent of ready-to-eat toddler meals contain high amounts of sodium. Children as young as one were regularly eating typical toddler snack foods that were considered "high sodium," containing more than 210 mg per serving. Sodium continues to be widespread in our general food supply, even in typically healthy foods like chicken, cereal, and bread. Outside of the home, while many restaurants are being more conscious about the sodium content of their meals, many single dishes still contain over half of a day's requirement.
So what's a parent to do?
Transition your taste buds slowly: like many things, changes take time. Start by cutting the amount of salt you use in your cooking in half and rinse any canned vegetables to gradually cut back. Your taste buds won't miss the salt as much if the transition happens over time.
Look at the label: Try to pick "low sodium," or "no salt added" products. Look for kid's items with less than 150 mg of sodium per serving, and aim for the sodium to be lower than the calories in the product.
Eat processed foods in moderation: It's inevitable to have some days where sodium seems to be the first ingredient on the menu. If you're headed to cheer on the Phillies, or have a big family barbeque, try to balance the rest of your day with unprocessed foods at home.
Load up on fruits and vegetables: Add another reason to make half of your plate fruits and veggies…they are loaded with potassium to help regulate your blood pressure. Foods like sweet potatoes, bananas, beans, leafy greens, and oranges contain high levels of potassium
Drink plenty of water: Many processed beverages, including milk, will add to your family's total sodium intake. Keep those water bottles full to hydrate without the additives.
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