Keeping a watchful eye on that salt

December 20, 2012

We all know that we should be careful with our salt intake, and this is especially true with children. Too much salt can cause water retention and high blood pressure, and it can affect the kidneys’ ability to function properly. Eating too much salt can also impact the overall healthfulness of our diets.

Julie Godfrey

Julie Godfrey

A study in Australia with children found that the more salt a child ate, the more they drank – logical. But the worrying aspect of this is that participants tended to gulp down sweetened drinks rather than plain water. This additional sugar serves as a double negative.

Firstly, it creates more thirst, and secondly, the extra empty calories are usually unnecessary. If unused, they will be converted to fat. Another study from the UK shows a continued increase in overweight and obese primary school children, and this is something parents should pay attention to. 

Salt comes from a number of sources. Processed foods tend to be relatively high in salt and can contain a significant percentage of daily requirements. Biscuits, breads, cheeses, deli and other processed meats, sauces and soups all contain added salt. Fast food has been much criticised for its high salt content, and like the rest of the food manufacturing industry, these companies are looking at how to cut down. 

The difficulties they face are twofold. Firstly, salt is a natural preservative and secondly, people have gotten used to the taste. Consumer product tastings tend to show a preference for saltier versions of the foods being tested. This means that the reduction needs to be done across the whole industry and relatively slowly to allow the public palate the readjust. 

How much salt is safe? When we talk about salt, we actually mean the sodium in salt and sodium is an essential mineral in our diet. While it is possible, if uncommon, to suffer from low levels of sodium, it is all too normal to suffer from an excess. Most adults can safely consume up to 6g (approximately 1 teaspoon) per day and children between 2g and 5g depending on age.

Babies should not consume more than 1g and the best advice is not to add any salt at all to food that will be eaten by a child less than one year old. With bought products, more than 1.5g of salt per 100g is considered high, and less than 0.3g of salt per 100g is considered low.  

To avoid these salty pitfalls, try to seriously reduce your processed food intake. Making food from scratch at home puts the control back into your hands. Salt does enhance the taste of food, so you can put some in, but try to kick the habit of adding salt to the food once it’s on the plate. Instead add flavor using herbs and spices. If your family starts to complain, cut the salt down gradually. And to avoid the double whammy of the additional sugar, steer clear or at least control the amount of the added sugar drinks and sodas consumed, instead topping up with good old-fashioned water.

Julie Godfrey BSc (Hons) is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and full member of the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT). See www.foreverhealthyco.com or email jgodfrey@foreverhealthyco.com.

News sources:

“Is Salt Making Children Fat?” – Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2246415/Is-SALT-making-children-fat-Youngsters-left-parched-crisps-chips-quenching-thirst-sugary-drinks.html

“One in three primary school leavers is obese or overweight” – Daily Mail: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/dec/12/primary-school-children-obesity-weight

“Salt, the Facts” – http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/salt.aspx#adult

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