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Michael F. Jacobson

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A Salty Minefield for Parents

Posted: 12/13/2012 8:16 am

Most people who are concerned about too much sodium -- mostly from salt -- in the diet probably think that it poses a risk only to grown ups, or perhaps only senior citizens. But one reason that parents of even young children should be concerned about salty foods is that many adults' food preferences are shaped in childhood. Food manufacturers and restaurants are ensuring that many children of today will be the hypertensive adults of tomorrow by loading up popular foods, such as macaroni and cheese, chicken noodle soup, and hot dogs, marketed to children, with unconscionably high levels of salt and other sodium-containing additives. Reducing the salt content in kids' foods would help train kids' taste buds to enjoy less-salty foods in childhood and as adults.

A second important reason to limit sodium in children's diets is that too much sodium can boost the blood pressure of even little tykes. That puts those kids on the road to high blood pressure and an increased risk of stroke and heart disease.

In a recent study by the CDC, researchers found that kids are consuming 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily -- about twice the recommended limits (1,200 mg is recommended for 4- to 8-year-olds and 1,500 mg for 9- to 13-year-olds). To lower your child's sodium intake, the most important thing is to limit processed and restaurant foods. Only about 11 percent of our salt comes from the shaker; the vast majority is engineered into the chicken nuggets, the Lunchables, the Hot Pockets, and other foods that manufacturers have created.

Investigators from the Center for Science in the Public Interest recently toured the supermarket and found a very salty minefield that parents must navigate on behalf of their children. (The sodium levels in most restaurant meals also are often high; that's a matter we'll return to in the future.)

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  • Tyson Fun Nuggets

    If the dinosaur shape of these chicken nuggets doesn't scare you, perhaps the fact that just five pieces amount to 490 mg of sodium may make your heart skip a beat. Best to find another way to have "fun" with your food, or else you might wind up extinct, like a dino. <em>Photo: CSPI</em>

  • Kraft Macaroni & Cheese

    A meal of Kraft Mac & Cheese will set a small child back fully half of his or her recommended daily sodium intake, 590 mg. Although the package states, "Made with 50 percent Whole Grain," this is no healthy choice. <em>Photo: CSPI</em>

  • Chef Boyardee, Beef Ravioli, Tomato & Meat Sauce

    While Chef Hector Boiardi (Boyardee) may have used "vine-ripened California tomatoes and wholesome pasta" in his original recipe, his brand is now also chock-full of sodium. A one-cup serving of the beef ravioli in a tomato and meat sauce provides 750 mg of sodium. <em>Photo: CSPI</em>

  • Hot Pockets Pizzeria, Four Cheese Pizza

    Cheese and dough are both pretty high in sodium. One portion clocks in at 760 mg of sodium, more than half a child's recommended sodium intake. That's not hot. <em>Photo: CSPI</em>

  • Ball Park Beef Frank, Wonder Brand Hot Dog Bun, Mustard

    This kid (and adult) favorite is loaded with sodium. One beef frank contains 550 mg of sodium, but don't forget the bun and mustard! A typical Wonder bun holds 210 mg of sodium, and two teaspoons of mustard adds another 115 mg, bringing the sandwich up to 875 mg of sodium -- well more than half the recommended intake for a tween and nearly three-quarters of a younger child's daily quota. <em>Photo: CSPI</em>

  • Frito Lay Rold Gold Pretzels

    These tiny twists may appear to be an innocent snack to grab on the go, but one two-ounce package is coated with 900 mg of sodium! Salty snacks like these add up over the course of a day to boost a child's sodium intake. <em>Photo: CSPI</em>

  • Oscar Mayer Lunchables, Ham + Cheddar

    Lunchables are concocted out of dozens of processed ingredients, preservatives, and artificial colorings, sweeteners, and preservatives, providing a whopping 910 mg of sodium for the Ham + Cheddar variety. That's nearly all the sodium a small child should consume in a day, and well more than half the recommended intake for older children. <em>Photo: CSPI</em>

  • Campbell's Homestyle Chicken Noodle Condensed Soup

    Campbell's soups are the uncontested victor when it comes to packing salt into foods meant for children (or adults). The Homestyle Chicken Noodle soup variety contains 940 mg of sodium per standard one-half cup serving of condensed soup (one cup after adding water). Consumer studies have indicated the average serving of soup is actually half of a can, bringing the total to an astounding 1,175 mg of sodium. <em>Photo: CSPI</em>

  • Classic Grilled Cheese Sandwich: Velveeta Slices, Sunbeam Bread

    What kid doesn't love a grilled cheese sandwich? The official serving of Velveeta original flavor cheese is just one slice, packing 320 mg of sodium. Toss two slices (640 mg) between two pieces of Sunbeam bread (made with buttermilk), tacking on another 320 mg, and together you're looking at 960 mg of sodium. That's more than 75 percent of a young child's daily recommended sodium intake (1,200 mg) -- quite a salty punch from one sandwich! <em>Photo: CSPI</em>

  • Buitoni Four Cheese Ravioli, Hunt's Traditional Pasta Sauce

    Hold on to your seats: This popular Italian fare for kids might shock you. A serving of 1 1/4 cup of Buitoni Four Cheese Ravioli contains more than half the recommended sodium intake for a young child, 630 mg. Top these pasta pillows with a one-half cup serving of Hunt's Traditional tomato sauce (560 mg), and the total soars to a staggering 1,190 mg of sodium. <em>Photo: CSPI</em>

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