kids eat too much salt

Unsurprisingly, American children are eating too much salt says the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (pdf).

As the word has spread round the web, on various news outlets, it seems rather easy to target the risky group of overweight and obese children (isn’t that just terrible to read? it was terrible to write it) but regardless of weight the kids in the study ate on average up to 1,000 mg more than the daily recommended amount of salt for adults!  Even if weight plays a role in disease risk, it would appear quite obvious all kids and adults could lay off the NaCl in spades.

With salt as a common additive to processed foods, fast foods, and pretty much everything these days, this news isn’t very shocking.  Salt is found in the seemingly most ridiculous of places (reminds me of corn syrup and GMOs) with little respite from the highly processed hypertensive seasoning.  With a nation increasingly dependent on food prepared out of the home for convenience, salt is ubiquitous.  Eating out, while an expensive habit of debatable convenience, means that you’re handing over your salt consumption to someone else.  This is a huge amount of trust (and as this study shows, wrongly placed trust) to people who have a bottom line of profit over consumer health.  Excess salt causes hypertension and high blood pressure in adults and children alike with overweight or obese kids most likely to suffer from heart disease (just like adults).  In the CDC study, about 15 percent of kids had some degree of hypertension out of the sample group (though I’d suspect across the nation this number holds true if not higher).

All hope is not necessarily lost, however.  If you’re a parent that is trying to keep your kids off salt as much as possible or ready to make the shift from the white stuff, here are some healthier alternatives:

  • use higher quality salt when you cook (or season): Himalayan pink salt, Celtic sea salt and other minimally refined salts keep their mineral content (unlike common table salt) and are therefore more satisfying. Your body craves the minerals and trace elements in salt and when they’re actually present (not removed from processing), the theory is you use less, and need less, and crave less salt.
  • use salt alternatives— a popular alternative in this author’s house is dulse which is a type of powdered seaweed. It is salty (it’s from the salty sea after all) but aside from a slight hint of seaweed, it is actually quite satisfying (not to mention incredibly nutritious). if seaweed weirds you out, you can try using vegetable salts like celery, garlic, or onion salt or for eliminating sodium altogether, just use powdered garlic, onion, or other herbs for flavor without problem.
  • control salt intake by limiting how much salt or salty foods, condiments, and seasonings that your child (and you) can use. If you let your child put soy sauce on rice, then pre-pour the soy sauce into a cup in the maximum amount you believe is good for your child. If you let them sprinkle salt, try a salt grinder and specify a low number of grinds (like 1-3) so they feel empowered yet are eating way less salt.
  • if your child has yet to eat salty food, don’t introduce it! there is almost never a reason to salt food given to a child. most children don’t know or care about the difference between seasoned and unseasoned food.
  • if your child already knows salt and asks for it, use less salt overall and “wean” them off of the high amount of salts they’re likely to consume as kids in a junk food world using some of the tips above.
  • find ways to incorporate your child into cooking so that even if they don’t use salt (per your wishes of course), they are more likely to eat and enjoy the food they created regardless of whether it tastes like “normal” or not. 🙂
  • make more food yourself! the less you eat out, the less salt you will eat. even if you use salt in your home-cooked food (and don’t necessarily “cut back”), it can be reasonably guaranteed that the heavy hand most chefs use in salting food at restaurants or the high quantity of salt that is necessary to preserve food for extended periods of time will be put to rest.
  • if you are still eating out, read the ingredients list for low sodium options, get vegetables more often (i.e. salads), order smaller quantities of food (like a 6 piece chicken nugget instead of nine pieces) with your healthier choices.
  • drink more water. strange but true that sometimes the craving for salty foods is actually coming from dehydration! Who would have thought?!
  • sleep and rest more! and the other reason why you might be craving salt is from “adrenal insufficiency” (as the above link suggests) which is basically stress hormone burn out. Rest means recovery and recovery means the craving for minerals in salt (the nourishment that your body craves from salt) diminishes because your body is replenishing its stores. There are other things you can do for adrenal fatigue/insufficiency as well. Kids can definitely get burnt out as well as adults so leave no proverbial stone unturned if you’re committed to making health a priority!

It will take some adjusting to but living healthy in the long term is a much better adjustment to make than being sick and limiting your access (and your child’s access) to the highest quality of life!

Finally, while salt gets a bad rap, it can be a good thing in small quantities. Unrefined salt (like Himalayan pink salt) provides trace minerals and nutrients that are necessary for a healthy system.  This is why salt can be so addicting and even why it seems that you can’t get enough of it.  Regardless, it isn’t an argument over whether salt is good or bad (or somewhere in between) it is imperative to mention that as a parent, caregiver, or concerned party, you have a duty to your children.  Children look to adults for guidance (whether it seems that way or not) and to let any child consume large amounts of salt is irresponsible. Take the time to help set a foundation of health forall children now so they will have a lifetime of health instead of being put on pharmaceuticals for “heart disease” at an incredibly young age!

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