A recent study, published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, found that many children currently exceed the recommended intake of salt on a daily basis. This is a serious concern as too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. There is also increasing evidence of a link between high salt intake and stomach cancer, osteoporosis, obesity, kidney stones, kidney disease and vascular dementia and water retention. Often the origins of poor dietary habits in adult life begin in childhood, so it’s time we understand how much salt our children should have.
Small amounts of salt are essential for our health but it’s recommended that adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day – that’s around one full teaspoon. Children should eat less and the amount varies significantly depending on the age of your child as shown below:
- 1 to 3 years – 2g salt a day (0.8g sodium)
- 4 to 6 years – 3g salt a day (1.2g sodium)
- 7 to 10 years – 5g salt a day (2g sodium)
- 11 years and over – 6g salt a day (2.4g sodium)
Babies under a year old need less than 1g of salt a day, as their kidneys can’t cope with more. If a baby is breastfed, they will get the right amount of salt from breast milk. Formula milk contains a similar amount. Making sure your child doesn’t eat too much salt means you’re also helping to ensure that they don’t develop a taste for salty food, which makes them less likely to eat too much salt as an adult.
So how can you cut down your family’s salt intake? First, try to remember whether you’re eating at home, cooking or eating ou,t taste your food before adding salt automatically. A lot of people add salt out of habit but often it’s unnecessary and your food still tastes great without it. 75% of the salt we eat is already in everyday foods such as bread, cereals and ready meals so added salt isn’t needed. Also, go easy on soy sauce, mustard, pickles, mayonnaise and other table sauces, as these can all be high in salt. Instead, when cooking at home add spices, herbs, or lime juice to dishes for added flavor.
Compare nutrition labels on food packaging when doing your food shopping. There is often a significant difference in the salt levels between brands, so by simply switching brands you can really help lower your salt intake. When shopping, select healthier snacks such as carrot or celery sticks instead of crisps or crackers
The below foods are almost always high in salt. To cut down on salt, eat them less often or have smaller amounts:
- salted and dry roasted nuts
- salt fish
- smoked meat and fish
- stock cubes