Salt in kids' food

Finding low-salt kids' foods might be harder than you think.
 
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01 .Sneaky salt in kids' foods

CH0313_Salt-in-Kids-food_ONLINE_KidChips_OrangeB

While the body requires salt in small doses for good health, the amount of salt creeping into foods, especially children’s food, is concerning.

Whether salt is added for its flavour or preservative qualities, it’s now seasoning much more than just chips, including cereals and even chocolate biscuits. 

In conjunction with The George Institute for Global Health, CHOICE reviewed the nutritional content of more than 240 products aimed at, or likely to be consumed by, children.

We found:

  • 49 products we classify as high in salt (at least 600mg sodium per 100g)
  • 140 with moderate salt levels (121-599mg per 100g) 
  • only 48 that were low in salt (120mg or less per 100g).

Alarmingly, 72 products, including cereal, sweet and savoury snacks, cheese and pre-packaged dinner products, have more sodium per 100g than Smith’s Original Flavour Crisps. Seventy one per cent of products high in sodium were also high in saturated fat or sugars.

How we chose the products

Our survey looked at products that stand out on the supermarket shelf as products suitable for children. We included products advertised through movies, music and cartoon characters, snacks packaged for the lunchbox and a selection of products commonly consumed by children.

 
 

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Crispix

A salty start to the day

If you think breakfast cereals are an odd source of salt, you may be surprised to learn Kellogg’s Crispix Honey Cereal, Coles Rice Puffs, Woolworths Homebrand Rice Pops and Aldi Goldenvale Breakfast Bubbles are all high in sodium. A further 22 of the 36 cereals we looked at have moderate sodium levels, including a few Kellogg’s favourites – Rice Bubbles, Coco Pops and Froot Loops. For a detailed analysis of children’s cereals see our children's cereals review

Salt in snacks

Of the 64 savoury snacks we looked at:

  • 1 product (Heinz Little Kids Tomato Mini Corn Cakes) has low sodium
  • 66% of snacks are high in sodium.

Some products, such as Rice Wheels and Wholegrain Corn Tubes in chicken and nacho flavours from Healtheries Kidscare, are high in sodium yet marketed as healthy. Woolworths Mini Macro Organic Cheese Corn Chips deserve a mention for their saltiness, despite advertising that focuses on otherwise “healthy” aspects of the product, such as the use of organic corn and no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. 

Cheese and crackers Le-Snack

Pre-packaged cheese dips and crackers, which are targeted at kids’ lunchboxes, are some of the worst offenders in the category. Kraft Cheese Snackabouts in original and chicken flavours, and the Coles French onion snack packs, have more than 1200mg of sodium per 100g (that’s double what we consider to be high). Woolworths Homebrand Cheese Dip and Crispbread, Kraft Cheesybite Snackabouts and Uncle Tobys Le Snak all have more than 1000mg/100g. 

Of the nine cheese snacks we looked at:

  • 9 were high in salt
  • 4 have more than double the sodium of regular Bega cheddar cheese.

The Kraft products – Cheestiks, Cheestick Wedges, Pods Girlz and Pods Bots – were the worst performers in this category. 

Biscuits and lunchbox barsLCMs

Is it really necessary for salt to creep into sweet snacks aimed at children? In the category of biscuits and sweet lunchbox bars:

  • 4 products (Lolly Gobble Bliss Bombs caramel popcorn, Mini Oreo biscuits, and Mr Munchies My Little Pony and Scooby Doo cookies) have more sodium per 100g than Parkers Pretzels, which are studded with salt crystals.
  • 57 of 70 products we chose have moderate salt levels. 

Spreads

While not directly aimed at children, spreads often end up on their sandwiches. We checked the salt levels in these spreads and found some big differences between similar products. Sanitarium Natural Peanut Butter has 8mg/100g sodium compared with the Kraft crunchy option, which has more than 80 times this amount at 647mg/100g, while Woolworths Choc Hazelnut Spread has three times more sodium per 100g than Nutella. Meanwhile, Vegemite is about three times saltier than sea water.

Dinner overloadYummy-meals

An increasing number of pre-prepared kids’ dinners are appearing on supermarket shelves. Of the 62 products we reviewed:

  • 3 are high in sodium
  • 39 have moderate sodium levels
  • 20 are low in sodium.

Woolworths Yummy Meals Spaghetti with Cannon Balls has 821mg of sodium per serve, just shy of the upper daily intake limit for a three year old, and more than half the upper daily recommendation for children four to eight years old. Latina Kids Cheese & Vegetable Mini Ravioli has moderate sodium levels, but the Latina sauce it’s recommended that you serve with it contains more than 1000mg sodium per serve. A serve of Hormels Kid’s Kitchen Spaghetti & Mini Meatballs in Tomato Sauce provides a four-to-eight-year-old with almost all their daily upper level of salt intake. 

Enjoying a few backyard barbecue favourites can also lead children to indulge in more salt than their daily recommended upper limit in just one meal. A serve of Woolworths Mini Macro Organic Beef Mini Sausages, two slices of white bread and a dash of tomato sauce comes in at 1134mg sodium. 

Maggi 2 Minute Noodles, a popular after-school snack or dinner option, also happens to be one of the worst offenders. A packet of the classic chicken flavour provides 1254mg, more than an eight year old’s recommended daily intake.

Too much salt in one day?

CH0313_Salt-in-kids-food-ONLINE-graphic

Expert opinions

Children have unique nutritional needs and the development of poor nutrition habits during childhood, such as high salt consumption, is difficult to make up for later in life. The Australian Division of World Action on Salt & Health (AWASH) states that children need very little salt to stay healthy and should eat much less than adults. 

“While it is well known that salt increases the risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack in older people, the harmful effects of salt on children are much less well recognised. Too much salt in childhood produces a serious rise in blood pressure that progressively worsens with age,” warns AWASH. 

Fast facts on salt

  • High blood pressure accounts for 60% of all strokes, 50% of all heart disease and is the third-greatest burden of disease in Australia after tobacco smoking and physical inactivity. 
  • The 2007 National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey found salt consumption among children aged two to 16 is well above the recommended maximum levels. 

What the dietitian says

Accredited practising dietitian Rachel Jeffery says care must be taken when choosing food marketed at children, particularly foods such as cereals and sweet biscuits, not normally considered to be salty or savoury that may contain high levels of hidden salt. The taste for salty foods is something that is learned, according to Jeffery, who reminds parents the best approach is to teach children not to eat salty foods from the beginning. 

“Feeding children foods high in salt is setting up behaviours that will continue into adulthood – behaviours that over a long period will potentially put children into a high-risk category.” 

“When children first start to eat solids, it’s not necessary to add fat, salt or sugars to foods. Children’s tastebuds are sensitive – something that tastes bland to us is not necessarily bland to them,” she told CHOICE.

Buyer beware

“Food marketing and labelling needs to be looked at carefully when shopping, as brands or labels quoting ‘healthy’, ‘mother nature’ or ‘mother earth’, ‘natural’ and ‘smart’ do not automatically imply all the ingredients in the food are nutritious in the quantities used,” says Jeffery. 

Woolworths’ new Mini Macro range is found in the “health” or “free-from” food aisle as well as the meat section. These organic products are marketed as a good choice for hungry little mouths, yet they may not have a particularly healthy nutritional profile. In some cases they are no better than an adult equivalent. Mini Macro Organic Meatballs for Kids, for example, have 625mg/100g sodium, while the Woolworths 100% Australian Beef Meatballs for adults have 610mg. Mini Macro Organic Cheese Corn Chips for kids are higher in sodium than Woolworths Supreme Cheese Corn Chips. Similarly, Sakata Paws Rice Snacks for children are no lower in sodium than its regular plain rice crackers, and Arnott’s chocolate coated Tiny Teddies have double the sodium content of Tim Tams

Look at the nutrition panel

Jeffery suggests teaching children about nutrition by taking them into the supermarket and encouraging them to read nutrition panels. “Look at the fat, salt and sugar and ask, ‘if we are going to choose this food, which is the better option?’”

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CategoryServing size (g)Energy (kJ per 100g)Saturated fat (per 100g)Sugars (per 100g)Sodium (per 100g)Sodium per serveBrand
         
Sweet snack1819707.933.624043Arnott's
Sweet snack20.816302.149.725553Arnott's
Sweet snack16.617404.044.424441Arnott's
Savoury snack2520105.60.9708177Arnott's
Savoury snack2520007.21.6764191Arnott's
Savoury snack2519608.90.6776194Arnott's
Savoury snack25205011.36.71120280Arnott's
Savoury snack2519204.61.4822206Arnott's
Savoury snack2520705.31.9564141Arnott's
Savoury snack2520006.00.4959240Arnott's
Sweet snack20.818805.425.129361Arnott's
Sweet snack22.4203011.837.420345Arnott's
Sweet snack20.4197010.535.218738Arnott's
Sweet snack17.818406.735.823642Arnott's
Sweet snack19.419109.433.427754Arnott's
Sweet snack19.419209.431.719137Arnott's
Sweet snack19.4194010.129.533465Arnott's
Sweet snack2518607.427.727870Arnott's
Sweet snack2518306.325.529474Arnott's
Sweet snack2318506.926.428766Arnott's
Sweet snack25196010.332.432180Arnott's
Sweet snack2518507.125.134687Arnott's
Sweet snack25181011.243.411429Arnott's
Savoury snack cheese20131017.5<1720144Babybel
Cereal3014800.19.5785236Back to Nature
Cereal4014700.124.0725218Basco
Sweet snack2215001.321.59020Be Natural
Sweet snack2214701.228.011024Be Natural
Savoury snack cheese20124013.31.0717143Bega
Dinner758690.91.0234176Birds Eye
Cereal3516800.410.0650195Black and Gold
Cereal3016000.410.0650195Black and Gold
Savoury snack24220013.81.91140274Burger Rings
Dinner1451200.10.5269390Campbell's
Dinner1471920.14.6233343Campbell's
Savoury snack24231016.83.2966232Cheetos
Dinner10010644.5<1625625Chickadee
Dinner10012705.61.7585585Chickadee
Sweet snack21205013.314.239583Chips Ahoy
Dinner1008952.11.0297297Coles
Cereal3016500.19.0550165Coles
Sweet snack2517864.324.018045Coles
Sweet snack2517713.024.020050Coles
Sweet snack14.4208124.039.011416Coles
Cereal3015800.545.5546164Coles
Savoury snack22163013.75.11110244Coles
Savoury snack22162013.55.01300286Coles
Savoury snack2019702.93.5685137Coles
Cereal3016000.232.1495149Enviro Kidz
Cereal3016300.236.5490147Enviro Kidz
Sweet snack11.315601.136.330434Erica's Kitchen
Cereal3515300.538.0470141Freedom Foods
Cereal401550126.7450135Freedom Foods
Cereal3515401.036.0448134Freedom Foods
Cereal3515600.738.0440132Freedom Foods
Savoury snack18.5220015.63.2717133French Fries
Sweet snack2013800.157.0408Fruit Tails
Sweet snack2013800.157.0408Fruit Tails
Sweet snack2512600.452.96617Golden Days
Cereal3015500.141.3400120GoldenVale
Cereal3016701.026.0359108GoldenVale
Cereal3016200.727.6322113GoldenVale
Cereal3019700.939.531093GoldenVale
Cereal3016000.25.030090GoldenVale
Cereal3016300.218.830075GoldenVale
Savoury snack cheese156875.85.01100165Happy Cow
Savoury snack cheese16.7104013.15.01000167Happy Cow
Savoury snack516901.019.531916Health Culture
Savoury snack209940.91.1561112Healtheries
Savoury snack1818000.62.8706127Healtheries
Savoury snack1817201.32.9690124Healtheries
Savoury snack1817200.92.2722130Healtheries
Savoury snack2010000.90.7505101Healtheries
Savoury snack1517601.84.3759114Healtheries
Savoury snack1517902.36.064396Healtheries
Dinner1203800.04.790108Healtheries
Dinner1902530.23.897184Healtheries
Dinner1901930.32.594179Healtheries
Cereal3015602.425.828184Healtheries
Cereal2015500.326.425577Healtheries
Sweet snack1101340.04.98998Healtheries
Dinner2203650.14.6250550Heinz
Dinner2203650.14.6250550Heinz
Dinner2202900.13.5170374Heinz
Sweet snack1017404.127.026026Heinz
Sweet snack1017603.426.626026Heinz
Dinner2202900.13.5170374Heinz
Dinner2202750.62.21226Heinz
Dinner2203301.02.0105231Heinz
Sweet snack816600.414.971Heinz
Savoury snack817601.23.41159Heinz
Sweet snack1514303.737.923035Heinz
Sweet snack1512802.935.319529Heinz
Dinner2202350.14.0350770Heinz
Dinner2134411.94.7495.51055Hormel's
Sweet snack995092.016.2131130Hunts
Dinner1009993.61.0525525Ingham
Dinner10010883.90.4650650Ingham
Cereal3016100.326.425376Kellogg's
Cereal3015700.521.223984Kellogg's
Cereal3016300.46.517260Kellogg's
Cereal3016401.834.013841Kellogg's
Cereal3016100.425.113561Kellogg's
Sweet snack2917204.334.322565Kellogg's
Sweet snack2217404.334.528563Kellogg's
Sweet snack2317005.929.227563Kellogg's
Sweet snack2217303.230.039086Kellogg's
Sweet snack2217707.633.932572Kellogg's
Sweet snack2217404.337.428563Kellogg's
Sweet snack2217303.230.039086Kellogg's
Sweet snack2317808.035.626060Kellogg's
Sweet snack23185010.327.632575Kellogg's
Sweet snack23183010.934.232074Kellogg's
Cereal3016001.329.813046Kellogg's
Cereal4514001.224.212036Kellogg's
Savoury snack cheese20129016.51.01300260Kraft
Savoury snack cheese20129016.51.01300260Kraft
Savoury snack26165015.13.81220317Kraft
Savoury snack28172016.03.71320370Kraft
Savoury snack cheese20142618.55.61600320Kraft
Savoury snack cheese20142618.55.61600320Kraft
Savoury snack26144011.64.3508132Kraft
Savoury snack26145011.15.0614160Kraft
Savoury snack26144011.05.2621161Kraft
Dinner1956032.03.0284554Kraft
Dinner1955991.73.1365712Kraft
Dinner1955991.73.1365712Kraft
Dinner2406613.21.8361866Kraft
Pantry item2027609.98.0578116Kraft
Savoury snack cheese21144018.01.01100231Kraft
Dinner1659802.80.3390644Latina
Dinner1558901.50.5460713Latina
Sweet snack1218704.319.017020Little Bellies
Savoury snack317701.44.93009Little Bellies
Savoury snack317602.22.72407Little Bellies
Sweet snack1218304.220.516019Little Bellies
Sweet snack1216201.031.5202Little Bellies
Sweet snack5015606.542.4548274Lolly Gobble
Cereal3516300.621.611440Lowan
Dinner3803651.50.72701026Maggi
Dinner3803601.51.2210798Maggi
Dinner3803601.50.53301254Maggi
Dinner3803601.50.6240912Maggi
Dinner3593091.30.94431590Maggi
Savoury snack30183019.22.5726218Mainland
Savoury snack25144012.80.1439110Mainland
Savoury snack2521003.81.0750188Mamee
Savoury snack2020008.58.6540108Mamee
Savoury snack2018508.25.4610122Mamee
Sweet snack12.5208411.432.030038McVitie's
Sweet snack2520008.125.3505126Mr. Munchies
Sweet snack2520008.125.3505126Mr. Munchies
Sweet snack20202011.538.4522104Nabisco
Pantry item2017306.546.49018Nestle
Cereal3016106.940.611334Nestle
Cereal3016200.32.911033Nestle
Pantry item1217000.098.8101Nestle
Pantry item1217301.780.751Nestle
Pantry item1216900.099.2101Nestle
Sweet snack22.521205.345.49521Nestle
Savoury snack815280.02.333026Only Organic
Sweet snack1016985.926.531231Orgran
Cereal2513701.228.210532Orgran
Sweet snack1717505.723.921737Orgran
Sweet snack1517003.759.020030Ovaltine
Sweet snack25209117.027.126867Paradise
Sweet snack25200012.031.828070Paradise
Dinner1701970.32.52237Raffertys
Dinner1702110.42.41729Raffertys
Dinner1702940.52.23051Raffertys
Dinner1702440.24.53966Raffertys
Sweet snack1615103.240.621034Raffertys
Sweet snack1614903.337.222035Raffertys
Dinner1702570.51.559100Raffertys
Dinner1702060.32.91831Raffertys
Dinner1701660.12.41526Raffertys
Dinner1702510.41.41932Raffertys
Dinner1702901.02.41627Raffertys
Dinner17024703.34170Raffertys
Dinner1702190.21.71322Raffertys
Savoury snack1514900.45.339960Sakata
Savoury snack1515200.58.550375Sakata
Cereal3015501.023.17430Sanitarium
Cereal3014800.223.03511Sanitarium
Sweet snack2013800.157.0408Scooby-Doo
Savoury snack1921803.51.7596113Smith's
Savoury snack2721303.43.6799216Smith's
Dinner1253950.16.0400500SPC
Dinner1254360.23.3380475SPC
Dinner1253690.33.4290363SPC
Dinner1253430.52.0170213SPC
Sweet snack2015800.138.710020SPC
Dinner2202970.13.9300660SPC
Dinner2202770.14.7350770SPC
Dinner1253320.44.9450563SPC
Dinner1253180.13.2310388SPC
Dinner1007521.51.4310310Steggles
Dinner1007352.11.0295295Steggles
Savoury snack35122011.06.0570200The Laughing Cow
Dinner1202640.14.396115Healtheries
Dinner1257041.92.0100125Tilda
Dinner1257592.42.800Tilda
Dinner1256270.51.000Tilda
Savoury snack19208011.64.71060201Twisties
Savoury snack22166014.45.61020224Uncle Tobys
Savoury snack22165013.97.41100242Uncle Tobys
Savoury snack22170015.15.71060233Uncle Tobys
Savoury snack26152710.14.81100286Vegemite
Savoury snack4.216990.412.628512Want Want
Savoury snack4.216960.311.627612Want Want
Cereal301630<0.112.7177Woolworths Home Brand
Dinner1258281.60.7335419Woolworths Home Brand
Cereal3015800.64.0163Woolworths Home Brand
Cereal3015800.546.052Woolworths Home Brand
Sweet snack2019808.726.225651Woolworths Home Brand
Sweet snack2019309.024.724048Woolworths Home Brand
Savoury snack25162011.55.41100275Woolworths Home Brand
Savoury snack25160011.45.51100275Woolworths Home Brand
Dinner807776.1<0.5540432Woolworths Mini Macro
Dinner808126.1<0.5625500Woolworths Mini Macro
Dinner1208386.9<0.5520624Woolworths Mini Macro
Savoury snack20218013.50.748096Woolworths Mini Macro
Sweet snack2519108.921.527068Woolworths Mini Macro
Sweet snack2514200.532.329073Woolworths Mini Macro
Savoury snack1319901.722.936047Woolworths Mini Macro
Savoury snack3520509.31.4390137Woolworths Mini Macro
Savoury snack3519608.52700245Woolworths Mini Macro
Savoury snack202280160.724048Woolworths Mini Macro
Savoury snack2517200.71.527569Woolworths Mini Macro
Sweet snack2513001.421.518045Woolworths Mini Macro
Sweet snack2217201.831.323051Woolworths Select
Sweet snack2217402.130.923051Woolworths Select
Dinner2206662.22.3339746Woolworths Yummy Meals
Dinner2205731.22.7373821Woolworths Yummy Meals
Dinner2206312.31.2265583Woolworths Yummy Meals
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USING THE TABLE 

Nutrient data is taken from the on-pack nutrition information panel. 

Traffic light criteria are based on the latest nutrition recommendations and dietary guidelines established by government health experts in Australia and internationally. Traffic lights allow you to compare the products at a glance and identify those that contain a little Green light, a moderate amount Orange light or a lot Red light of key nutrients of public concern. 

Saturated fat (g/100g)  Green light≤1.5, Orange light1.6-4.9, Red light≥5

Sugars (g/100g)  Green light≤5, Orange light5.1-14.9, Red light≥15

Sodium (mg/100g) Green light≤120, Orange light121-599, Red light≥600

Sodium per serve is given in (mg)

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