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Licking the salt in kids' diets

Date
Many parents are aware of the dangers of sugar, but less so when it comes to salt.

Many parents are aware of the dangers of sugar, but less so when it comes to salt.

Have we been too busy panicking about sugar to think about salt? While some food companies are trying to shrink our salt intake by putting less in their products, others are finding reasons to dump more salt in our arteries.

After surveying 28,000 food products, researchers at Sydney's George Institute for Global Health recently found that salt levels had increased, on average, by nine per cent between 2008 and 2011. And in case we're not salty enough, the coffee chain Gloria Jeans has added salted caramel latte to its menu.

If you're paying attention to the cooking pages you'll know that salted caramel is the flavour du jour as in Nigella Lawson's famous sweet and salty crunchy nut bars - salted peanuts and crushed Crunchy Bars stuck together with melted chocolate and golden syrup. Yep, I know our tastebuds need a treat now and again, but we also need to give our arteries a break.

Salt overload is bad news for arteries because it causes blood vessels to retain more fluid in order to balance the salt concentration in our blood. This boosts the volume of blood in the arteries causing high blood pressure - which over time can damage arteries leading to heart attack and stroke.

Yet even some young children are overdosing on salt, says Deakin University researcher Carley Grimes who recently checked the levels of salt in the urine of a group of Victorian five to 13-year-olds as part of the Salt and other Nutrient Intakes in Children Study.

"The results showed that these children were having an average of 6g of salt a day. This is high – 6g is the maximum daily limit set for adults and much higher than the maximum daily limit for four to eight year olds which 3.5g," says Grimes from the University's Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research. "One child's levels were very high – the equivalent of 18g of salt and three times the maximum adult level."

Whether this translates into kids with high blood pressure isn't clear yet – that's the next step in the study.

"But there's evidence that reducing salt intake reduces blood pressure in children. If you can keep blood pressure at a healthy level you're giving children a good start," she says.

One way to decrease this salt load is to scan the label for foods with less sodium (salt consists of both sodium and chloride and it's the sodium in salt which can be a problem). But it may be that sodium isn't as high on parents' radar as sugar. Earlier this year a survey of almost 12,000 parents and carers visiting The Wiggles website found that checking food's sugar content was the priority for most of them when shopping for their children. Sodium didn't get a mention.

Here's a guide to rating a product's salt content when you read the nutrition panel: 120mg sodium per 100g = low; 120mg to 600mg sodium = moderate; over 600mg sodium per 100g = high*.

These numbers help when you compare  labels,  especially in the bread and breakfast food aisles where there are big differences in sodium content between products ranging from 650mg sodium per 100g  to less than 300mg per 100g.

Other ways to trim children's salt intake? Along with obvious stuff like putting fruit in lunchboxes instead of salty snack foods, avoid simmer sauces and processed meats like ham, says Grimes.

"Lean roast chicken is a healthier sandwich filling and has less salt. You can also reduce the salt in a sandwich if you choose a cheese with a lower salt level - and skip the ham."

For more about salt and children's diets see the Australian Division of World Action on Salt & Health.

*Source: Australian Division of World Action on Salt & Health

What's your tip for keeping the salt down in your kids' diet?

37 comments so far

  • Any advice or information regarding salt in foods and cooking also needs to explain what sort of salt is being talked about as being bad for you. Typically on current affiairs shows and newspapers, there is no mention of this, and leads people to incorrectly thinking all salt is bad.

    There was only a brief mention here of salt having sodium and chloride - that is highly processed but cheap table salt. This is the bad one.

    What is GOOD for you are the natural (ie not processed or refined) rock salts, including Celtic sea salt, and Himalayan (pink) rock salt, and some others. These contain traces of most natural minerals that are very good for our bodies for normal body functions. They are not just sodium and chloride. In small amounts in cooking these are very good for you, as most people generally don't eat well, and need these trace minerals.

    But processed foods are not made with these good salts (which are more expensive, admittedly) and to keep the costs down, the nasty table salts are used instead.

    So reduce your sodium chloride levels by avoiding processed foods as much as possible, but do have some of the good salts from time to time...

    there is a difference.

    Commenter
    Mossy
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    November 07, 2012, 9:45AM
    • There's a different point of view from  AWASH. (Australian Division of World Action on Salt).  Among  a list of myths on its website is ''It doesn't matter how expensive salt is, where it is from, or whether it comes in grains, crystals or flakes - it still contains sodium which has harmful effects on health."

      Commenter
      Paula
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 10:33AM
    • NaCl Sodium Chloride is Sodium Chloride. Himalayan, Celtic or from the moon, it is still Sodium Chloride. You can use salt substitutes that have KCL Potassium Chloride, however they interact with certain blood pressure medications (ACE inhibitors & Angiotensin II inhibitors), hence the little blue sticker the pharmacists sticks on your blood pressure medication telling you not to take potassium supplements without medical advice.

      Commenter
      Jas390293
      Location
      Tamworth
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 10:53AM
    • @Paula, EVERY single cell in our bodies needs sodium for normal cellular functions and processes.

      The question is how much is ok and how much is too much?

      For people who are using the natural seasalt (Celtic or Himalayan or similar) that's fine, compared to the highly processed sodium chloride table salt, which is the real problem here. You need to clearly define what salt is acceptable, and what is not, and how much is too much. But you are lumping the good salt in the same basket as the bad salt.

      Commenter
      Mossy
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 11:00AM
    • Yes, Mossy - I know the body needs sodium. It's found naturally in many fresh foods like seafood, meat, dairy foods and some vegetables. Even if you avoid most processed food which is the main source of sodium in the diet, it's still in bread. So not hard to get enough sodium in Australia. 

      Commenter
      Paula
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 11:14AM
    • @Jas390293, sodium chloride is NaCl and vice versa. Salts used for cooking are NOT all the same and are not all just comprising sodium and chloride, like I said in my first posting.

      Natural sea salts also contain Calcium, Boron, Phorphorus, Manganese and others in higher amounts and dozens of other minerals and elements, even if they are just traces.

      We need these trace minerals in our bodies for normal metabolism. Some or most of these could be found in good, fresh, organic foods, but as most people don't eat enough of these, a little natural sea salt will add these necessary trace minerals into their bodies.

      Commenter
      Mossy
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 11:52AM
    • Your assertions are quite bizarre. Much of the commercially available salt is also sea salt. To ascribe “health” properties to Himalayan salt or Maldon flakes based on its appearance, texture of very minimal quantities of trace elements is fanciful. It migh look better bu the health benefits are zip. We get those trace elements from the food we eat. And no, the food does not have to be “good, fresh, organic” to contain trace elements. AFIAK there has never been any study which demonstrates that organic produce is any better for you, or nutritionally more complete than its mass produced counterparts. As for being fresh, the mineral component is non- volatile so a shrivelled month old carrot contains exactly the same minerals it did when fresh. In fact you could put in a furnace, burn it at 600 degrees and consume the ash for exactly the same mineral content (minus the mercury) - that is how one determines the crude mineral content (ash) of a food product.

      Commenter
      Directeur Sportif
      Location
      based in reality
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 12:40PM
    • @ Mossy (in support of Jas390293) - natural rock salts/Celtic sea salt/Himalayan (pink) rock salt are all predominantly (i.e. 98%+) sodium chloride. It might contain some other minerals, but at the end of the day they still add to your salt (sodium chloride) intake. The body doesnt make a distinction about whether that sodium chloride was originally sourced from "good salt" or "bad salt".

      I dont think the author needs to make any distinction between salts because she is not saying that all salt is bad. She is, however, saying that too much of any salt is bad, which is perfectly true.

      Commenter
      stngcloud
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 1:48PM
    • Jas390293, Directeur Sportif and stngcloud have made the same (correct) point in different ways.

      Commenter
      Dr Kiwi
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 2:29PM
    • If you evaporate sea water to get your salt, it will have the same 2% of minerals other than sodium chloride, whether you evaporate it in France or Ireland or South Australia.

      Commenter
      enno
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      November 08, 2012, 6:34PM

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