It’s a lot easier to be unaware of the amount of sodium in food.  It is an essential ingredient for life, but once you start paying attention to your sodium intake, you may realize that you are consuming more of the stuff than you thought.  Even more alarming to me is the amount of the salty stuff that many children ingest each day.

Yesterday a good friend of mine asked me why she should be watching the sodium in her child’s diet, what harm does it do?  I think that’s a question that doesn’t get asked enough, so let’s discuss!

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently posted an article that highlights the worst offenders in the “average” person’s diet.

The article does not mention children, but taking a look at the CDC’s top ten list, I’m pretty sure there’s reason to be concerned:

  • Bread and rolls
  • Cold cuts and cured meats
  • Pizza
  • Fresh and processed poultry
  • Soups
  • Cheeseburgers and other prepared sandwiches
  • Cheese
  • Pasta dishes (such as spaghetti with meat sauce)
  • Meat dishes (such as meat loaf with tomato sauce)
  • Snacks (such as chips, pretzels and popcorn)

If these are the kinds of foods that you or your children eat, then maybe its time to be more aware about the choices that you make within these categories.  You can really lower your sodium intake by reading labels and comparing brands – choose low sodium options; instead of purchasing prepared/processed foods – make your own when you can; choose natural, whole, good quality foods that haven’t been highly processed; instead of ordering from the children’s menu at restaurants that offer the standard chicken fingers and french fries – order healthier options from the regular menu and share, or ask if the restaurant will make a smaller portion.

So just how much sodium is okay?  You can find Health Canada’s Dietary Reference Intakes for Elements here.  Health Canada recommends that for children between the ages of 1 and 8 years old 1000-1200 mg per day, with a “tolerable upper intake level” of 1500-1900 mg.  And just in case you’re wondering, it’s 1500 mg per day for the rest of us, with an upper intake tolerance of 2300 mg.  Now that you’ve read that, go to your cupboards and take a look at the nutritional information on some of the items in there.  Then take a deep breath and resolve to make some changes (or congratulate yourself for being a sodium savvy shopper)!

Why do you need to be concerned about your children and the amount of sodium in their food?   Because an excess of sodium on a regular basis can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and other serious health problems as they get older.  It also teaches them to have a preference for salty foods, something that is difficult to change later on in life.

Just to put it in perspective – there are about 2400 mg of sodium in a teaspoon of table salt.  If you are using unrefined sea salt, the sodium content may vary slightly and it does contain valuable trace minerals – but the bottom line is that you need to be aware of your salt consumption not matter which type you use.