Salt: Dangerous for Kids’ Diets

Salt: Dangerous for in Kids’ Diets

Cooking Salt

Just like sugar, kids today are consuming far more salt than is healthy.  Salt is hidden in lots of foods, from bread to breakfast cereals – in fact, there is salt in almost any processed food you buy.  But salt can be dangerous for your kids’ health, so it is best to reduce their intake whenever possible.

Salt, or sodium chloride, is an essential mineral kids and adults alike need in our diets.  However, kids today tend to eat too much salt.  And too much salt is definitely too much of a good thing.  As with most nutrients that are essential for living, consuming too much salt is harmful to kids’ health.  Here are some of the biggest health risks to children who consume too much salt:

Blood Pressure

It has long been known that excess salt increases blood pressure in adults, but did you know that eating too much salt increases blood pressure in children, too?  A diet high in salt in childhood leads to higher blood pressure later, which in turn increases risk of stroke and heart attack by three times. Kids who use salt at the table have increased systolic blood pressure.[1]  Studies show that this higher blood pressure rises over the years in a steady incline if kids continue to consume too much sodium.[2]  Fortunately, children are incredibly resilient and can recover more quickly than adults.  By reducing salt intake down to recommended amounts during childhood, you reduce your child’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease in adulthood.  In fact, studies show that reducing salt intake is more effective in reducing blood pressure than all the medications currently available![3]

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis may sound like a disease of the elderly, but it is now being detected in young adults.  The problem is that bone loss is difficult to detect in very young adults whose loss may not yet be measurable in the bones themselves.  However, calcium lost in the urine can be detected and kids who consume too much salt actually lose more calcium than their peers who eat the right amount.[4][5]  These losses continue into adulthood.

Teenaged girls are especially at risk.  This is because peak bone mass is reached at the time of puberty, but far too many girls at this age are not consuming enough calcium and potassium while at the same time consume extremely high levels of salt.[6]  If peak bone mass is lower, girls (who are already at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis) have less bone mass to lose later in life, which predisposes them to develop osteoporosis.

Obesity

Okay, so salt is not a direct cause of obesity, but it is a contributing factor.  Have you ever sat down to eat a salty food and then felt thirsty?  This is the reason why salted peanuts and salty pretzels are commonly served at bars – they want to make you thirsty so you buy more drinks.  (Interestingly, for those thirsty for random bits of knowledge, this fact contributed to the Jews winning their Temple back from the Greeks during the time of the Maccabees, which is celebrated during the festival of Chanukah.  A beautiful Jewish woman named Yehudit/Judith fed the Greek general lots of salty cheese, causing him to drink too much wine.  When he passed out she cut off his head and in doing so cut the head off the Greek war leadership.)  Hopefully our kids aren’t slaking their thirst with beer or wine, but unfortunately they are slaking their thirst with something almost as bad – soft drinks.

Sodas and other sugary soft drinks contribute significantly to the obesity epidemic among today’s youth.  After all, 31% of beverages drunk by children from the ages of 4 to 18 are soft drinks.[7] Drinking too many sugary soft drinks has been repeatedly shown in scientific research to be related to obesity.[8]

You might think the link between soft drink consumption and salt consumption would be tenuous, but that is not so. Sales of salt and sales of soft drinks rise together and sale of salt are correlated with obesity rates.[9] Cutting salt consumption in half, from the average 10 grams per day to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended 5 grams per day decreases daily beverage consumption by 350 mL daily, which is approximately one can of soda. Children are especially sensitive to the consumption of excess salt, which causes them to need more liquid. In fact, by reducing a child’s salt consumption by 1 gram per day, the average child drinks 100mL less liquid and 27mL less sugary soft drink.[10] Therefore, reducing your child’s salt intake, even by a small amount, could have a big impact on their overall health and weight.

Cancer

I hate to bring up the big ‘C’ – cancer – but if we want to have healthy kids we have to face reality. When kids eat too much salt it does increase their chance of developing cancer, particularly stomach cancer. That’s because eating too much salt damages the stomach lining, which in turn can lead to the development of cancerous cells.[11] Eating too much salt also encourages proliferation of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, which is associated with the development of stomach cancer and ulcers.[12] Of course, this is unlikely to afflict your child at a young age, but it can happen, and you do not want to increase your child’s chance of developing this deadly disease later in life. Reducing calcium intake seems to me to be an easy way to reduce risk.

Asthma

Even when I was growing up, asthma was a common childhood ailment. Most children do not die of it, but it complicates their lives, makes it hard for them to participate in all activities they might want to, and is a frightening and unpleasant feeling.  Consuming too much salt can worsen or instigate asthma in kids. This is because high sodium consumption increases bronchial reactivity,[13] making children who consume high amounts of salt more prone to asthmatic attacks.[14] This is related to the excess amount of calcium that is lost when too much salt is consumed.[15]

Kidney Disease

Our kidneys today work hard to filter toxins and other nasty things from our bloodstream. Today, they have to work harder than ever, as our environment is filled with toxins that enter our bodies primarily via the air that we breathe and the food that we eat. Consuming too much salt puts our kidneys under extra unnecessary stress that can, over time, cause them damage. This is because eating too much salt causes the production of protein urea, which is a major kidney disease risk factor.[16]

Less Salt, Better Health

I hope these are enough reasons to convince you of the impact too much salt can have on your child’s health and wellbeing. Cutting down on salt might be challenging if you rely heavily on processed foods, but with many alternative products on the market, you can usually find some that are healthier. If we want our kids to lead healthier lives, we need to reduce the amount of salt in their diets. Let’s inspire healthy kids!

Australian Lake Salt

[1] Gregory J, L.S., Bates CJ, Prentice A, Jackson L, Smithers G, Wenlock R, Farron M., National Diet and Nutrition Survey: young people aged 4 to 18 years. Vol. 1: Report of the diet and nutrition survey. 2000, London: The Stationery Office. 271-336.

[2] Geleijnse, J.M., D.E. Grobbee, and A. Hofman, Sodium and potassium intake and blood pressure change in childhood. Bmj, 1990. 300(6729): p. 899-902.

[3] Rose, G., Strategy of prevention: lessons from cardiovascular disease. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed), 1981. 282(6279): p. 1847-51.

[4] Goulding A, Everitt HE, Cooney JM, Spears GFS. Sodium and osteoporosis. In: Wahlqvist ML, Truswell AS, eds. Recent advances in clinical nutrition. Vol 2. 1987:99-108.

[5] Cappuccio, F.P., et al., Unravelling the links between calcium excretion, salt intake, hypertension, kidney stones and bone metabolism. J Nephrol, 2000. 13(3): p. 169-77.

[6] Geleijnse, J.M., et al., Long-term effects of neonatal sodium restriction on blood pressure. Hypertension, 1997. 29(4): p. 913-7.

[7] He FJ et al. Salt Intake Is Related to Soft Drink Consumption in Children and Adolescents: A Link to Obesity?  Hypertension. 2008; 51, 629-634.

[8] Ludwig DS et al. Relation Between Consumption of Sugar-sweetened Drinks and Childhood Obesity: a prospective, observational analysis. Lancet. 2001; 357, 505-508.  James J et al.  Preventing Childhood Obesity by Reducing Consumption of Carbonated Drinks: Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial. British Medical Journal. 2004; 328,1237.

[9] Karppanen H, Mervaala E: Sodium Intake and Hypertension. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2006; 49, 59-75

[10] He FJ et al. Salt Intake Is Related to Soft Drink Consumption in Children and Adolescents: A Link to Obesity?  Hypertension. 2008; 51, 629-634.

[11] Tsugane, S., et al., Salt and salted food intake and subsequent risk of gastric cancer among middle-aged Japanese men and women. Br J Cancer, 2004. 90(1): p. 128-34.

[12] Karppanen, H. and E. Mervaala, Sodium intake and hypertension. Prog Cardiovasc Dis, 2006. 49 (2): p. 59-75.

[13] Goulding A, Gold E. Effect of dietary sodium chloride loading on parathyroid function, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, calcium balance and bone metabolism in female rats during chronic prednisolone administration. Endocrinology 1986; 119:2148-54.

[14] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1833904/pdf/bmj00299-0028.pdf

[15] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1834783/pdf/bmj00308-0056b.pdf

[16] He, F.J., et al., Effect of salt intake on renal excretion of water in humans. Hypertension, 2001. 38(3): p. 317-20

3 thoughts on “Salt: Dangerous for Kids’ Diets

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