Silver Spring, Md, March 23, 2013 – We have all heard the warning about having too much salt in our diet. We have been cautioned that high levels of sodium can cause high blood pressure and can lead to heart disease and stroke. There have been countless news stories about the high sodium levels in processed foods such as lunch meats and canned soups. As a result of all this, many people check the labels on their grocery store purchases and look at the nutritional information for their fast food restaurants.
But what about our children’s food? If you do not think about what your little one is eating, maybe you should. New research by the Centers for Disease Control presented at the American Heart Association’s American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions in New Orleans earlier this week, warns that the sodium in many infant and toddler foods is at unhealthy levels. They also warn that starting high sodium early in life leads to a taste preference for salt.
Researchers compared the nutritional labels of the products in an effort to determine if very young children were getting unhealthy levels of sodium. The study marked 210mg as the line to qualify as “high sodium” in the tested foods. After testing 1115 of commercial baby and toddler food products, almost three quarters (71%) of the commercial toddler meals surveyed exceeded 210mg per serving with some hitting a whopping 630mg.
Toddler snacks were not much better. The savory snacks were the worst offender. However, the study found that most infant and baby foods were lower in sodium and within safe bounds.
Similarly, in the 2008 study, The Nestlé Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS), found that 50% of children 12-23 months and 75% of 2-4 year-olds have diets that exceed the AHA and the APA’s recommended levels of sodium.
If you stop to think about this, it makes sense. We all know that it is the pre-prepared foods, the quick and easy meals, the frozen dinners and the meal shortcuts that have the highest levels of sodium in adult food. So, why should this be any different for babies and toddlers. Salt is a great preservation agent. It was used long before refrigerators and chemical preservatives to make food last. So, if easy meals for adults come at a price of high sodium, why would baby and toddler foods be any different?
In a response to this research, Gerber, one of the largest commercial baby and toddler food producers, issued a statement. They say they are committed to the health of infants and toddlers and support on-going research to develop dietary guidelines for children under 4. They go on to say, “Gerber has been proactively reducing sodium levels in our toddler meal options while maintaining the great taste that mothers and young children expect. In 2011, we reduced sodium levels in some toddler products by as much as 30 percent. We are continuing these reduction efforts and by the spring of 2013, 80 percent of our toddler meal products will have been reformulated to have less sodium.” However, at this time Gerber does use sodium levels set by the World Health Organization, which are higher than US sodium standards.
So, how can you make sure your little one is not overdosing on salt? If you choose to continue buying commercially prepared meals for your child, you will need to start checking labels and keeping track of how much sodium is in the daily total. The AHA recommends no more than 1500 mg of sodium per day for toddlers.
Some of the toddler favorites, like macaroni and cheese or pizza, have some of the highest sodium levels. Some of the food containers contain more than one serving, so you need to make sure you know how much food you are giving your child to get an accurate amount of all vitamins and nutrients. But do not be fooled that just become something advertises vegetables on the label. For example, V8 is not a good substitute for actual vegetables. While it promotes, “a full serving of vegetables,” in every serving, it does not promote the 469mg of sodium in a 9oz serving of regular V8.
However, an easier solution is to make your own food at home where you can control the ingredients and amount of salt. Making your own food also allows you to maintain your child’s favorites, like that mac and cheese, at more reasonable sodium levels. Prepare foods from their most basic forms. Try using spices to flavor food rather than salt. Frozen vegetables heat up in the microwave faster than most of the prepared meals, and fresh fruit only needs to be cut into bit sized pieces. You can even stock your refrigerator with proportioned containers at the beginning of the week so you can grab and go.
Remember, habits, including eating habits, that are established early in life tend to be the ones that stick around for a life time. With that in mind, you can help spare your child future problems with high blood pressure by trying to control sodium levels in the foods she eats now.
Follow Brighid on Twitter a @BrighidMoret and receive updates when new columns post on Facebook or Google+. She also writes picture book reviews at Big Reads For Little Hands. Read more about first time parenting issues in Parenting the First Time Through at The Communities at The Washington Times.
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