It's no surprise that eating too much sodium - salt - can increase your blood pressure as an adult. But 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 2,000 mg per day.
Why is this such a concern? 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 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 1 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 food supply, even in typically healthy items such as chicken, cereal, and bread. Outside the home, while many restaurants are being more conscious about the sodium content of their meals, many single dishes still contain more than 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 with cutting by half the amount of salt you use in your cooking, 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 labels: 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 barbecue, balance the rest of your day with unprocessed foods at home.
Add another reason to make half of your plate fruits and vegetables . . . 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.