Friday, September 19, 2014

New Study Finds that 9/10 American Kids Eat Too Much Salt

salt shaker - American kids eat too much salt
A CDC study found that 9/10 American kids eat too much salt.
Image: Shutterstock
As young students across the country head back to school this month, parents and guardians should be mindful about what they are packing in school lunches, and cooking at home for dinner. According to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an astonishing nine out of 10 American kids eat more salt than they should, which raises their lifetime risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

Many grown adults have a complicated relationship with salt. Home cooking encourages the use of spices and seasonings when preparing meals with local, nutritious ingredients, but many Americans don’t have the time or the budget to cook every meal from scratch. Chips, packaged snacks, and ready-to-make meals like frozen pizza and boxed macaroni and cheese are affordable for larger families and fast and easy to make. Unfortunately, they are also loaded with sodium and processed ingredients. 

I’ve talked before about my own personal experiences unpeeling myself from the processed food salt craze. Moving away from packaged food and cooking more at home can be a hassle—especially if you’re not used to it—and sometimes our palates take a while to adjust to less salt. In my experience, though, once my body did adjust to less salt, I stopped feeling like it needed to be added. Nowadays, I only infrequently use salt while cooking – and really only a dash or two when I do decide to use it.

But I didn’t make the choice to use less salt—in fact, I didn’t even think about it until we just had to cut it out of the family diet because of my dad’s health issues. Many adults and children don’t realize just how prevalent salt is in the foods we eat—and it’s becoming a huge problem.

Based on the CDC’s findings, about 43 percent of the salt ingested by children comes from the ten foods they eat most often. According to WebMD, “these foods include pizza, bread and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, savory snacks, sandwiches, cheese, chicken patties and nuggets, pasta dishes, Mexican dishes, and soups.” For busy families, many of these foods are ideal because they are appealing to children and easy to make.

One of the most important takeaways from the CDC study is that the high ingestion of salt a child can affect health later on.

Explains Dr. Erica Brody, “Though kids do not have the same short-term risks from high-salt diets that adults do, as with all aspects of childhood nutrition, the foods our children eat now affect the choices they will go on to make as adults.” Dr. Brody works in the department of pediatrics at the Kravis Children’s Hospital at Mt. Sinai in New York. Named for prominent hospital donor Henry R. Kravis, the Children’s Hospital is ranked among the top medical institutions in the world.

Dr. Brody and many other childhood nutrition specialists, including CDC Deputy Principal Directory Ileana Arias, agree that it is vital for young people to start learning about healthy, nourishing foods early, to prevent bad habits down the road. “This includes excessive sugars, fats, and, of course, salt as well,” Dr. Brody says, of the unhealthy ingredients that are heavily marketed towards children. 

Sarah Sproule, artisan salt maker and owner of Urban Sproule in NYC recently told Kinfolk, “Now we see convenience food companies […] loading their chips and crackers with enough salt to make them shelf-stable for years. People are concerned about salt intake—I like to call it the “sodium craze.” But health conditions related to sodium intake haven’t come out of garnishing with your favorite artisanal flake salt: They’ve come from consuming packaged foods loaded with overly processed sodium,” of the difference between garnishing meals at home with salt and exclusively eating heavily salted, processed foods. Arias agrees, noting that families can serve more fresh fruits and vegetables and by preparing foods that contain less salt, rather than opting for ready-made meals like pizza, when possible.

Learn more about the CDC’s findings by visiting WebMD.
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