Not many of us are aware that this week (29th February – 6th March) is National Salt Awareness Week. This year’s theme is centered around hidden salt, the salt in our foods that we don’t see or sometimes even taste.
Studies which look at children and adolescents (aged 2-18 years) are very scarce. There is however, some research showing that our taste preferences are formed in childhood, and high blood pressure tracks from childhood to adulthood, so it’s important not to give children high salt foods. A high salt diet also contributes to the development of hypertension later in life 1,2, and so promoting healthy habits in children and watching their salt intake at a young age will be beneficial in the long term.
Let’s look at how much salt your child can consume per day. The World Health Organization (WHO)3, recommends that children should consume not more than 2000mg of sodium per day. So let’s take a step back and look at what the difference is between sodium and salt? Salt is made up of two parts – sodium and chloride. Sodium is the part of salt that can increase your blood pressure when you eat too much of it. 5 g of salt is the same as 2000 mg of sodium. Take note that this recommendation for children includes children between 2 and 15 years of age. The recommendation for children does not address the recommended period of exclusive breastfeeding (0–6 months) or the period of complementary feeding with continued breastfeeding (6–24 months).
So what should you look for on the label? Look on the ingredient list for these words: Salt or any ingredient that contains the word “sodium”, MSG, baking soda or baking powder. If any of these words are in the first three ingredients on the food label of a food, it is likely to be high in salt. You can further explore the salt content of the food by checking the Nutritional Information Table. Look at the value for sodium in the “per 100 g” column and not the “per serving” column. You can use these sodium values to compare different products and choose the one with the lowest amount of sodium. Here is a very helpful table (taken from the Salt Watch website) 4 to use when deciding whether a product is high in salt or not:
Cutting back on salt has received a lot of attention in South Africa in the past two years, based on data showing that we are consuming too much of it. This led to our Health Minister signing a legislation to reduce the salt content in certain food products (i.e. breakfast cereals, breads, ready-made-meals, cheese etc.)5. June 2016 is the first deadline in this stepwise process and soon you and your family will be eating less salt, without even noticing it!
I challenge you to take this simple “salt calculator” to estimate you and your children’s salt intake (www.saltcalculator.co.za).
You have the power and the responsibility to teach your children about healthy food habits, and what better way to do that than to set the example! “Sprinkle, don’t shake”!!
Bianca Swanepoel (M.Sc. in Nutrition) researcher at the Centre of Excellence for Nutrition, North-West University.
1 Chen & Wang. 2008
2 Lawlor & Smith. 2005
3 WHO. Guideline: Sodium intake for adults and children. Geneva, World Health Organization (WHO), 2012.
5 Regulations relating to the reduction of sodium in certain foodstuffs and related matters:R214. March 2013