Salt has been a bogeyman in the headlines of late. The goal behind last week’s breakthrough report from the Institute of Medicine—which urged the FDA to limit sodium in packaged and restaurant food—was a desire to prevent high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
But the fact is it’s never too early to reduce salt intake. Most American adults eat way too much salt—more than 3,400 mg daily versus the currently recommended 2,300 mg, or about one teaspoon—and almost 80 percent of that comes from processed foods. (Manufacturers are starting to take note, with companies from PepsiCo to Heinz to General Mills announcing they plan to phase in lower-sodium versions of top selling items.)
Consider this: School lunches have an average of 1,000 mg of sodium. Think pizza, chicken fingers, mac & cheese, grilled cheese, hot dogs, hamburgers, and the #1 consumed “vegetable” by toddlers, the almighty french fry. And don’t forget the “goldfish” snacks, organic version or no.
Although most kids aren’t at immediate risk for developing hypertension, one recent study directly linked dietary salt to how many high-calorie, sugary drinks they consume, and thus with obesity. What's more, growing research points to how kids’ palates, or tastes, are set, or imprinted, very early on, a topic Alan Greene, MD, explores in his new book, Feeding Baby Green. So it’s worth taking a good look at what your child is eating on a typical day, and making a few sodium-slashing changes. Research shows that after eight to 12 weeks of scaling back, taste buds prefer less salt, so get started today.
Sleuth out hidden salt. One cup of spaghetti sauce can contain more than 1,000 mg of salt. Lunchmeats are another culprit, with 1,600 mg in a 6-inch turkey sub, without cheese! Check nutrition facts labels to be sure there’s no more than 5 percent of the Daily Value of sodium per serving, or 115 mg for adults. Other not-so-obvious high-sodium foods:
• Corn tortillas • Chinese or soba noodles • Pita bread • Pizza crusts
Seek out reduced-sodium versions. Choose low-sodium tamari or soy sauce, low-sodium soba noodles, ketchup, salad dressings, and other packaged foods.
Rinse salty foods like feta cheese, olives, and canned beans and fish. Just this can remove about 30 percent of the sodium.
Don’t add salt until the end when cooking. And then do so judiciously. Most baked goods don’t need added salt, and adding salt to dried beans too early makes them tough.
Make low-salt versions of kid faves. Cut up potatoes or sweet potatoes, toss in a little olive oil, bake at 400 degrees until slightly crispy, then lightly salt. Choose whole-wheat pizza crust (whole-wheat flour generally has much lower sodium than all-purpose white flour), go light on the mozzarella, and skip the pepperoni.
Get spicy. Squeeze lemon on foods and grind some fresh black pepper. Garlic and basil are other kid-friendly spices.
What are your favorite low-sodium solutions for your kids?