I have a little secret to tell you. Sometimes I get so caught up on the sugar we’re eating (or not eating), I forget about its long lost cousin, salt. And I’m not just talking yummy salt on your fish and chips salt.
Although there are different schools of thought about how much sugar we should consume, there is little argument when it comes to salt. I’m sure though most people wouldn’t be aware of how much is in some everyday foods. We all know not to add extra salt to our meals; however did you know the majority of our daily salt intake comes from packaged foods? And did you know the safe level of salt for a baby or toddler to consume?
The Health Impacts on Babies and Toddlers
As far as babies are concerned, too much salt can be dangerous. Their kidneys are immature so they cannot excrete excess amounts, meaning too much salt can cause dehydration. This is also a problem for toddlers (you know how thirsty you get after those fish and chips right?) and can cause other health problems down the track.
A recent study through Deakin University has shown that more than half of Australian toddlers have excessive salt intakes. Associate Professor Campbell states,
“This is worrying because too much salt can increase blood pressure, even at a young age. High salt diets early in life can set children on a lifetime trajectory of raised blood pressure, increasing their risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease as adults”.
According to dietary guidelines, following are the latest “safe” levels of salt for babies and toddlers:
* Babies (0 to 6 months): less than 0.3g (120mg sodium) per day.
* Babies (7 to 12 months): less than 0.5g (170mg sodium) per day.
* Toddlers (12 months to 3 years): 0.5 to 1.0g (200 to 400mg sodium) per day, with an upper level of 2.5g (1,000mg sodium).
But What Does that Mean?
We all need to be aware of the levels of sodium in food. Some of the worst culprits are what you least expect. For example:
Two slices of bread = 1.0g of salt. That’s the entire recommended daily amount for a toddler.
That’s 460mg of sodium per 100g serve (for a standard, multigrain loaf). For comparison, Smith’s Plain Potato chips have 440mg sodium per 100g serve. Naturally I am not saying you are better off eating potato chips than bread, but it is an interesting comparison!
To complicate things further, please note that much of the salt we consume through packaged food is iodised salt (bread in particular). Just be aware that by reducing salt intake you have to make sure your children are getting iodine through other sources, such as seafood, seaweed and eggs.
What Should we do About it?
I don’t want to scare people into running around madly calculating the sodium intake of their families! Don’t get hung up on the exact mg of sodium consumed each day. Just be aware of what you are eating and keep it in mind when making decisions about what to feed your family.
If you do purchase packaged foods, there are some simple things you can do to reduce the salt consumed:
* Look for low salt options – less than 120mg of sodium per 100g
* Remember packaged foods with added flavourings have higher salt levels
* Keep high salt yeast and cheese spreads to a minimum or swap for avocado/nut butters
* Fresh is best – swap processed (and high salt) biscuits for fresh fruit and vegetables
* Swap processed cheese slices or sticks for cheddar cheese
* Always read the label – even if it is targeted towards babies and toddlers
All of this is another great example of why you should make foods from scratch as much as possible. Naturally there may be times you need to purchase packaged foods – if you do, always read the label.
Remember that what we feed our children now sets their taste preferences for the rest of their lives. Encouraging them to enjoy foods low in sugar and salt should reduce the likelihood of them wanting to eat an unhealthy diet into adulthood.
In my next post in this series I will discuss my other favourite topic – sugar! And provide some inspiration for snack ideas for the little people in your lives.
Did the amount of salt in bread surprise anyone?!
If you are interested, adults should have no more than 6g of salt per day (about one teaspoon)!
Please Note: as I have mentioned before, I am not and definitely don’t claim to be a nutritionist! I’m just concerned with what I am eating and feeding my girls and want to raise the level of awareness for everyone! :-)