Salt in kids' food

Finding low-salt kids' foods might be harder than you think.
 
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03.What the experts say

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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