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Why too much salt is bad for kids

While we all know that too much sugar is bad for kids, did you know that too much salt can be just as harmful to the health of children?

Research shows that a high salt intake in children not only influences blood pressure but can cause your child to suffer osteoporosis, respiratory illnesses such as asthma, stomach cancer, and obesity later on in life.

With the holiday season in full swing and schools closed for the year, children will be snacking more than usual. And that means nibbling on salty snacks like potato crisps, pretzels, peanuts, processed meats, canned foods, takeaways, and frozen meals. The World Health Organisation recommends that adults consume less than five grams (5000mg) of salt a day.

Children aged one to three years should eat no more than 2g salt a day, while children aged four to six years should eat no more than 3g salt a day. It can be difficult for parents to work out their children’s daily salt intake given that most food labels only list sodium content. Salt and sodium are not the same thing.

To calculate the salt content, multiply the sodium content (in mg) on the food label by 2.5. For example, 2g of sodium (or 2000mg) is the same as 5g (5000mg) of salt. A large (125g) packet of potato crisps has a sodium content of between 730mg and 1800mg depending on the brand and flavour. The salt and vinegar flavour, for example, has an even higher sodium content.

Eating 100 grams of dried sausage means that you take in 1600mg sodium while 100 grams of biltong – a South African dried meat delicacy – results in more than 2000mg of sodium. But there are many other products that contribute to salt intake. For example, a portion of instant “2-minute” noodles contains between 800mg and 1600mg of sodium. And other easy-to-prepare products such as a 200g portion of crispy crumbed chicken provides nearly the full content sodium for the day. Sandwiches – and especially those with cold meats – also have high levels of salt. About 30g of salami has 560mg of sodium while 30g of ham has 400mg of sodium.

What does salt do to the body?

There is more than enough scientific evidence to show that high salt intake contributes to raised blood pressure (hypertension) which leads to heart disease. South Africans consume between 7.8 and 9.5g of salt per day. This is equivalent to one and a half teaspoons of salt a day, far exceeding the World Health Organisation’s 5g a day (one teaspoon) recommendation. The World Health Organisation estimates that the global mean intake is around 10g of salt per person daily. As a result of this high salt intake, hypertension is one of the leading causes of renal disease, heart disease, and stroke in the country.

South African study shows that high blood pressure is responsible for 38% of all strokes. The “problem” is that the effects of excessive salt may take many years to develop into hypertension. People with hypertension do not feel sick and rarely display telltale symptoms. This is why hypertension is known as the so-called “silent” killer.

How to limit your child’s salt intake

There are steps you can take to reduce your child’s salt intake.

  • Teach your child how to read and understand Nutrition Facts labels, including what to look for when shopping for lower sodium foods.
  • When cooking at home, try different spices, herbs, and vegetables instead of salt.
  • Model healthy eating for your children by having a diet rich in fruits and vegetables without added sodium.
  • Compare Nutrition Facts labels to choose the lowest sodium options before you buy.

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