How Much Salt is Too Much?
And How to Reduce Your Child’s Intake!
Why is too much salt an issue for a child or for anyone? After all, isn’t salt, or sodium chloride, necessary in our diet? Don’t we need salt as a vital mineral?
The answer is yes. Salt makes up a significant portion of the fluids within our bodies. Salt makes up about 0.4% of our total body weight. Too little of this nutrient leads to severe health issues, and so does too much. So what do we need, how do we get it, and how do we avoid getting too much?
This article will answer these questions and more!
What does salt do for us?
Sodium is a vital component in our body for the following functions:
Conduction of nerve impulses
Maintaining a balance of fluid and minerals in the blood
Contraction and relaxation of muscles
Control of blood pressure
We obtain sodium through food and drink and lose sodium through sweat and urine. Our kidneys, if functioning normally, make adjustments to maintain a balance of sodium - excreting excess sodium and retaining sodium when levels are low.
According to the American Heart Association, the following are the approximate amounts of sodium, in milligrams, in a given amount of table salt (sea salt has the same amount of sodium as table salt):
1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 milligrams sodium
1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 milligrams sodium
3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 milligrams sodium
1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 milligrams sodium
How much salt do we need?
For sodium to perform the functions required in the body takes about 500 mg daily.
Americans tend to get far more than this. According to the CDC, the American Heart Association, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the recommended amount for an adult is 2,300 mg daily - the amount in one teaspoon of table salt. Table salt is 40% sodium and 60% chloride; 90% of our sodium consumption comes from sodium chloride.
For those with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, the recommended amount is 1,500 mg daily.
Estimates show that adults consume roughly 3,400 mg daily.
Children aged 2-19 consume more than 3,100 mg daily; ages 12-19 consume up to 4,200 mg daily!
The maximum daily sodium intake for children by age, according to the CDC, is:
1-3 years 1,200 mg
4-8 years 1,500 mg
9-13 years 1,800 mg
14-18 years 2,300 mg
What does too much salt do?
When the body gets too much sodium, it retains extra water to dilute the salt. This increases the blood volume leading to an increase in blood pressure. An increase in blood volume and blood pressure increases the workload for the heart. Ultimately, these changes lead to hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.
!!! It is estimated that almost 1 in 2 adults and 1 in 6 children have high blood pressure.
About 90% of children in the US eat excess salt.
Where does the salt we consume come from?
The majority of salt in our diet comes from commercially prepared foods. Most unprocessed foods - fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, unprocessed meats, and unsalted nuts - are low in sodium.
Commercially prepared and processed foods high in salt.
The top sources of sodium include:
Bread and rolls
Deli meats/cold cuts/cured meats and sandwiches
Coffee drinks/energy drinks
Pancake and baking mixes
Examples of fast food meals that can reach or exceed a full day's amount of sodium.
One fast food kid’s meal can exceed 1,500 mg of sodium!
Word of caution:
Salt tablets should never be given to children. These should not be used for salt replenishment and can be dangerous. Salt tablets should be a thing of the past, like bell bottoms, hot pants, and fringe…well, some of those have made a comeback, but there is no place for children to ever take these.
How can we reduce our child’s sodium intake?
Look for low-sodium and low-salt canned foods and soups
Drain and rinse canned vegetables
Choose frozen vegetables over canned
Reduce fast food intake
Decrease ultra-processed food consumption
Choose unsalted nuts
Prepare your own meals at home whenever possible
Increase intake of fresh fruits and vegetables
Use more spices, herbs, citrus, and vinegar for flavoring when cooking
Read nutrition labels to choose low-salt items
When choosing foods, look for low-salt, salt-free, and unsalted items, such as unsalted nuts shown here.
Take action now to reduce your child’s salt intake to prevent high blood pressure and all the awful effects that come with it later.