Is Your Child Eating Too Much Sodium?
|February 24, 2016||Posted by Stacy under Healthy eating at home, School lunch, Sodium|
With all the recent talk about the dangers of a sugary diet, many of us moms now pay close attention to our kids’ sugar intake. But what about sodium?!? If your family eats processed foods or likes to dine out at restaurants, your children may be consuming too much. Since February is American Heart Month, it seems like a good time to share these sodium-reducing tips from Jessica Spraggins, M.P.H., a health communications specialist in the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
By Jessica Spraggins, M.P.H.
As a mom of three school-aged kids, I’m constantly worrying about all of the choices I need to make to ensure they are happy and healthy. Most recently, my biggest concern has been reducing sodium in my kids’ diet. Did you know that 9 out of 10 U.S. children ages six to 18 years eat too much sodium daily? So if you have 20 kids in a classroom, 18 of those will be eating too much sodium each day. In fact, these kids eat an average of 3,300 mg a day (that’s 1,000 mg more than the recommended daily amount!). A high sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
You may not realize, but most of the sodium in your child’s diet is already in food before you buy it or order it. That’s right, it’s not all from the salt shaker! About 65 percent comes from store foods, 13 percent from fast food and pizza restaurant foods, and nine percent from school cafeteria foods. While a larger percentage of school cafeterias are lowering sodium in school meals, parents can do more to reduce sodium in the food we buy at grocery stores and eat in restaurants. In fact, I didn’t even realize it, but some of the most popular foods that I buy my kids — including pizza, bread, cold cuts, sandwiches, cheese, chicken patties, pasta dishes and soups — make up 43 percent of sodium eaten by children.
How can you make your next grocery store trip a lower sodium success? Here are a few things that I do that can help:
- When it comes to snacks, I load up on fruit and vegetables, which are naturally low in sodium. To avoid processed food and ensure that I fill my cart with more fresh food, I shop the perimeter of the grocery store (looking for low sodium options in the deli) and stay away from the center aisles.
- Compare sodium levels by reading the nutrition labels to choose the lowest option. When comparing pasta sauces at the grocery store, I was surprised to see my kids’ favorite pasta sauce had the most amount of sodium out of all the options. I didn’t even know that sodium levels could vary so much between similar products! We’ve now changed to a lower sodium pasta sauce and my kids haven’t complained at all. In fact, they like the new brand better than our previous one!
- Ask your grocery store manager to provide more low sodium options of your family’s favorite foods. I’ve asked the manager at my go-to grocery store to offer more lower sodium options, like bread, deli meat, and cheese—all essential ingredients in my kids’ sandwiches for lunch. To increase demand, I’ve asked my friends to join me in this request. Together, we’re making sure our community has heart healthy food options at the grocery store.
My family, like many American families eat some of their meals away from home. Sometimes there is simply just not enough time to grocery shop and prep every meal of the week at home, so some nights we opt for the local family favorite restaurant. However, my kids and I always try to stay on mission: to reduce sodium in our diets. We ask our waiter for the nutrition facts so that we can choose a lower-sodium option. Regardless of whether nutrition facts are available, we ask that our food be prepared without salt and choose a fruit or vegetable as a side. If we’re opting for a sandwich, we ask for only one piece of bread so that it is open-faced. While we might not always have time to cook, we do have time to choose lower-sodium, heart-healthier options.
By lowering sodium in your child’s diet today, you can help prevent heart disease tomorrow. By making small changes to the way you grocery shop and eat out, you can make an impact on your child’s daily sodium intake. For more information about reducing sodium in your family’s diet, visit www.cdc.gov/salt.
Jessica Spraggins, M.P.H. is a health communications specialist in the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She supports CDC’s mission to improve the nation’s cardiovascular health. Jessica received a bachelor’s in health sciences from The George Washington University and a master’s degree in public health from Yale University. She is the proud mom of three boys, ages 15, 7 and 3.