September 25, 2012

Study shows children's diets high in sodium


---- — A recent study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, reported that American children were eating roughly 3,300 milligrams of sodium per day.

That amount is almost 1,000 milligrams higher than the maximum recommended daily amount for a 2,000-calorie diet. This trend is also associated with children experiencing elevated blood pressure, putting them at risk for heart disease at an even younger age. Where is all of this salt coming from?

The study showed that the average intake of sodium for children was significantly elevated even in the diets of children who live in households that rarely use table salt. Simply keeping the salt off of the table would be a relatively easy change, but unfortunately, the problem stems from our eating habits and consumption of processed food. If you take a closer look at nutrition facts, it may be easier to see how this all adds up.

High-sodium choices are prevalent at restaurants as well as at home in the form of snacks and convenience foods. I find it hard to tell by taste alone if a food is actually high in sodium, as some very salty tasting foods, such as tortilla chips, usually have a lot less salt than a can of soup, for example. If the salt is mixed into the dish, the taste is harder to distinguish than salt on the outside of the food, so nutrition labeling is really the only way to determine how salty a dish really is. Pre-made, frozen breakfast sandwiches and similar creations usually contain more than 500 milligrams of sodium.

A pre-made, packaged lunch usually contains 500 to 800 milligrams of sodium, and a few have more than 1,000 milligrams per meal.

A one-cup serving of a canned pasta meal usually has about 1,000 milligrams of sodium. Most cans contain two servings.

A fast-food kid’s meal usually contains 400 to upwards of 1,000 milligrams of sodium. The size of the meal has a big impact on the sodium content.

A single-serving cheese pizza has about 600 milligrams of sodium; and cured meats, like pepperoni, ham and sausage would only add more.

These examples contain 20 percent or more per serving of the daily value of sodium that is recommended for adults. Many people should actually eat even less sodium, as the daily value is the upper limit. It is easy to imagine a child or teen having one or more of these choices per day. However, reducing the sodium in your children’s diet, and your own, is doable, even without giving these foods up forever.

Of course, moderation is key, not only to be practical but also to make a lifelong change. 

First, start reading labels. When you know where the sodium is coming from, it is easier to limit. If you are able to compare these labels in the store, you may find lower-sodium options of similar foods. Be conscious of serving size, as many high-sodium foods may be regularly eaten in larger than single-serving portions. If you eat out with any regularity, take a look online, as nearly all chains have the nutrition information posted, so you can compare and plan on making healthier choices. 

As always, choose more vegetables and fruits. Though sodium is naturally found in most foods, fresh and frozen vegetables and fruits contain negligible amounts. Canned is still a good option for some people, but choose no-salt added varieties, which are becoming easier to find. Try to avoid buying vegetables in sauce or that are pre-seasoned, as that can add sodium to an otherwise very low-sodium food. Try flavor-cooked vegetables with herbs and spices or lemon juice; roast some vegetables to enhance natural flavors; or enjoy them raw.

If you have questions about sodium or would like individualized help to reduce sodium in your family’s diet, call a nutrition educator at your local cooperative extension office.

The complete sodium study can be found at

Jordy Kivett is a nutrition educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. For more information, contact her at 561-7450.