It’s never too early to think about your child’s sodium intake.
Most parents know better than to allow their babies and children access to super-salty snack foods like chips and pretzels – and everyone is aware that “junk food” isn’t good for kids. (The baby in this picture isn’t allowed to eat the chips in the bag, though he likes the crackly sound it makes!)
Though most of us wouldn’t think of plunking our kids down in front of the TV with a big bag of fresh kettle-fried chips ‘n dip, we may not know what kind of salt is making its way into their little mouths – and kidneys – from seemingly innocent sources.
After your body has taken what it needs from the food, waste is sent to the blood. If the kidneys do not remove these wastes, the wastes build up in the blood and damage your body. Kidneys measure out chemicals like sodium, phosphorus, and potassium and release them back to the blood to return to the body. In this way, kidneys regulate the body’s level of these substances. The right balance is necessary for life, but excess levels can be harmful. A baby’s kidneys are only just developing and are unable to process a high amount of added salt. Too much salt from sources other than natural foods like veggies and fruits, breast milk and/or formula can damage baby’s kidneys leading to other complications.
A study conducted by the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, called Salt and Health showed that consuming more than trace amounts of sodium in childhood increases health risks later in life, including but not limited to obesity, osteoporosis, kidney failure and stomach cancer.
Do we really think enough about what salt is contained in the foods our children eat, and just how dangerous an over-salty diet is for our little ones? A quick label scan of even foods like cereals and “baby snacks” yielded shocking results.
Packaged commercial cereals like Cheerios – a default “finger food” – as well as the ever-popular rice rusks sold in the baby-food section of drugstores across Canada – are stealth carriers of salt. One rice rusk has 10mg of salt, while a cup of Cheerios contains a whopping 213 mg of salt, almost a quarter of the recommended daily dose for a child between 1 and 3 years old.
Even harmless-seeming foods like bread and meats are full of sodium chloride, or what we usually call “table salt” – and 77% of the sodium we consume comes from processed foods.
A 2011 study by the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found that early dietary experience shapes salt preference of infants and preschoolers, finding an association between children who to eat ate starchy, processed adult “table foods” early and those who showed a preference for salty-tasting food later on. The same study found that babies were not born with a preference for salty foods, and were indifferent to the taste of sodium for the first few months of life.
“More and more evidence is showing us that the first months of life constitute a sensitive period for shaping flavor preferences,” said lead author Leslie J. Stein, Ph.D., a physiological psychologist at Monell. “Our findings suggest that early dietary experience influences the preference for salty taste,” said Stein.
While the results concern how parents might make choices for their children, the study was driven by questions about why adults had a difficult time changing their diet.
“Because it’s been so hard to change adult intakes, we asked whether preferences might be influenced earlier in life through experience with salty food,” explained senior author Gary Beauchamp, Ph.D., a behavioral biologist at Monell. “If so, this may point to the development of public health initiatives that could help people reduce their salt intake.”