WASHINGTON — Too many American children are growing up literally addicted to salt.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 90 percent of school-aged kids and teens nationwide are eating too much sodium.
The CDC recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams a day for normal children and adults. Little kids can easily hit that number, and by the time they hit their tweens and teens, average daily sodium consumption can reach 3,486 milligrams.
“This is a real concern,” says Pamela Barainca, clinical nutrition manager at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. She says if sodium consumption is too high in children “it can raise their blood pressure, it can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
According to the CDC, one in six children have raised blood pressure, most of it the result of processed foods from the grocery store. More than 40 percent of this sodium comes from just 10 types of food — with pizza topping the list. Baked goods, deli meats, canned soups and chips aren’t far behind.
Barainca says it’s important for parents to check labels, watch portion size, encourage kids to eat more fresh foods and substitute other herbs and spices for the salt shaker.
Weaning a child off high sodium foods isn’t easy, but it can be done. Eventually, the taste buds will adjust, just as they adapted to eating salted foods in the first place.
Children adapt because they aren’t born craving salt, it’s something they generally develop after they start to eat solid food.
“They are not looking for a salty taste as you are introducing them to foods,” says Barainca. She emphasizes that if parents watch the sodium content from the time their children are tiny, chances are they won’t have a big problem later.
But for those whose kids have already acquired cravings for salty foods, Barainca has some advice. She says start by setting a good example, and make reducing sodium a family affair.
She says children look to their parents as role models, and if healthier foods are constantly on the family table and in the refrigerator, they will eat the right thing.