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Monday, February 2nd, 2015
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a new study published in the journal Pediatrics finds that many commercial toddler meals and foods sold in the U.S. are high in sodium and sugar.
In the study, researchers looked at the amounts of sodium and sugar in 1,074 infant and toddler dinners, snacks, fruits, vegetables, dry cereals, juices and desserts. They found:
- Out of 79 infant mixed grains and fruits, 41 contained at least one added sugar and 35 contained more than one third of their calories from sugar;
- Seventy-two percent of toddler dinners were high in sodium (> 210 milligrams per meal);
- On average, dry fruit-based snacks contained 60 grams of sugar and two thirds of their calories from total sugars –the most common added sugars included fruit juice concentrate, sugar, cane, syrup, and malt.
Cooking at home and preparing mainly fresh foods with little or no added sugar or sodium is a great way to help your infants and toddlers get started on a nutritious and balanced eating path. But it’s unrealistic to assume that parents won’t turn to foods and beverages that come in packages, cans, jars and containers at least some of the time—after all, they’re convenient and can save parents precious time when preparing meals.
To help you seamlessly lower sodium and sugar in your infants’ and toddlers’ diets while boosting nutrients, here are six tips from two top registered dietitian nutritionists, Jill Castle, and Bridget Swinney.
Get ‘em to the table. According to childhood nutrition expert Jill Castle, “One of the easiest ways to avoid too many packaged and processed foods is to get babies and young toddlers to the family table early on and to feed them more natural, wholesome, homemade foods.” Castle says that by one year of age, most toddlers can eat what the family eats as long as their food is chopped up (to the size of small dice). Low sugar, low sodium options include tender meat or cooked fish, baked potato (mashed with milk or water to smooth it out) or soft cooked noodles, soft cooked vegetables, or fruit canned in natural juices.
Make it at home. Bridget Swinney, author of Baby Bites and Healthy Food for Healthy Kids, says there are so many quick and easy homemade baby foods you can make without added sugar or salt. Some of her favorites include mashed banana, mashed avocado, and mashed apple (peel the apple simmer or steam in microwave, then mash) as well as boiled, baked or roasted carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower or any other vegetable you can easily mash with your fork.
Learn limits for sodium: When purchasing packaged food items, Castle says it’s important to know how to interpret the Nutrition Facts Panel to make sure sodium levels are low—especially since there is no standard for sodium Daily Values (DV) for children under four years. According to Castle, “Since the DV is based on a 2,000 calorie adult diet, infant and toddler foods that provide two or three percent or less DV per serving is a more appropriate (low) level of sodium for a toddler.” She also says that some foods designed for infants and toddlers may not list the sodium content, while common “kid” foods like macaroni and cheese, will. Swinney also recommends no more than 300 milligrams per serving for a meal and 150 milligrams per serving for a snack. She also says that while there’s no need to worry about sodium when serving fresh, homemade food, it’s wise to watch how much you add.
Offer smart snacks. According to Swinney, “Fresh and unsweetened fruits and vegetables, yogurt and boiled eggs make the easiest and healthiest snacks for little ones.” She also recommends adding your own soft fruit (pureed or chopped, depending on your child’s age) to plain Greek yogurt. Swinney also says that although small fruit cups packed in their own juice are convenient, so is a banana, grapes cut in half, and mandarin orange sections. She also recommends steaming chopped vegetables ahead of time to have on hand to pair with items like hummus or a yogurt dip for easy toddler-friendly snacks.
Blend and serve. “There’s no need to drag the food processor out when wanting to share your own dinner with baby. Simply take your portion out and season separately and then use an immersion blender or fork-mash to get to the right consistency for baby, right in the pan.”
Don’t forget iron and zinc: According to Castle, it’s essential to help babies six months and older get good food sources of iron, a mineral that’s critical for brain development and that babies six months and older need more of, and zinc, a mineral involved in many normal body functions and essential for normal growth. Castle suggests that parents slow cook lean beef or skinless, dark meat chicken or turkey (legs or thighs) with 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water or low sodium broth and puree in a blender, offering it as a stand-alone pureed entrée or using one tablespoon of pureed meat with jarred pureed fruit or veggies.
Click here to learn how to transition your baby from pureed to solid foods, and click here for new nutrition guidelines for 2- to 12-year-olds.
How do you limit sugar and sodium in your child’s meals?
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Health, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition, Snacking, The Scoop on Food
Tuesday, June 17th, 2014
In an effort to “try to prevent thousands of deaths each year from heart disease and stroke,” the Associated Press (AP) reports that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will soon issue voluntary guidelines to encourage food companies and restaurants to lower sodium in their offerings.
Although current Dietary Guidelines for Americans set a daily cap of less than 2,300 milligrams for Americans over age two (and even less—1,500 milligrams—for adults aged 51 and over, African-Americans and those with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease), most children exceed these recommendations. National survey data reveals that while two to five year-olds meet the cap and average 2,307 milligrams of sodium daily (that’s about one teaspoon of salt), older children fare worse. Six- to 11-year-olds consume about 2969 milligrams of sodium daily, and 12- to 19-year-olds average a whopping 3,585 milligrams of sodium daily.
Typically, consuming more dietary sodium is linked with higher blood pressure. And for children, there’s moderate evidence that as sodium intake decreases, so does blood pressure. Helping children keep blood pressure in a normal range may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease.
Despite evidence to the contrary, not everyone agrees sodium intake should be limited to garner blood pressure or other health benefits. In fact, a recent review published in the American Journal of Hypertension found that while both low sodium intakes and high sodium intakes were associated with increased mortality, average daily intakes of between 2,645–4,945 milligrams was associated with the most favorable health outcomes. According to the AP article, the food industry supports a 2013 Institute of Medicine report that suggests there’s no good evidence that eating sodium at levels below 2,300 milligrams daily offers benefits.
Whatever your thoughts about sodium, it’s important to know where it lurks so that you can be mindful when feeding even young children. A recent study published in Pediatric Obesity that examined the sodium and sugar content of packaged baby and toddler foods sold in America found that 58 percent of the products assessed either have a high level of sodium or at least 20 percent of calories from sugar. Researchers also found that 15 percent of toddler foods (especially entrees) exceeded the ‘moderate level’ recommended for sodium.
Other foods that kids typically eat that tend to be high in sodium—not to mention high in calories and less nutritious overall—include processed/packaged or restaurant foods including fried, breaded foods (like chicken nuggets and French fries), cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese, sliced deli meats, condiments like catsup and processed meats like hot dogs. Still, otherwise nutritious foods like canned beans, vegetable-based soups, and whole grain breads can also pack in sodium which is why it helps to read labels to compare products. To put sodium in context, any item that contains 230 milligrams per serving is about 10 percent of the sodium recommended daily for kids.
Only time will tell if the FDA’s future voluntary sodium guidelines—if followed by the food industry—will help children lower their sodium intake and reap subsequent health benefits. Until then, it’s prudent to be aware of sodium in kids’ diets and to take steps to help them meet—and not exceed—current science-based sodium guidelines.
For more on sodium and tips to help your kids lower their intake, check out my recent Scoop on Food post, Kids and Sodium. You can also visit this CDC website.
What’s your take on kids and sodium? Do you think they should limit it in their diets?
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Monday, May 20th, 2013
If I asked you what nutrient you thought your children consume too much of, would sodium make the cut? When I asked my Twitter followers and Facebook friends this question, it was no surprise that concern over sodium was trumped by concern about the amount of carbohydrate, sugar and fat kids consume. But too much sodium in children’s diets is something worth paying attention to. It can increase their risks for disease and contribute to other less-than healthy behaviors that compromise their growth, development and overall health.
According to a 2012 study in Pediatrics, sodium intake was positively linked with a greater risk for high blood pressure among US children and adolescents. The researchers found that overweight and obese children were especially at risk for the blood-pressure raising effects of excess sodium intake. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death among American men and women.
Another study published in the May 2013 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a link between higher dietary sodium intake and consumption of fluids—especially sugar-sweetened beverages. Researchers concluded that, in children, too much dietary sodium may contribute to greater intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages and energy that can inevitably lead to unhealthy weight gain.
According to data from What We Eat in America, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2009-2010, children—especially school-aged kids—consume more sodium than they should. The average daily sodium intake of two to five year-olds is 2,307 milligrams—the amount you’d find in about one teaspoon of salt. Six to 11 year-olds average about 2969 milligrams of sodium daily, and twelve to 19 year-olds—especially teen boys—consume the most sodium, and average about 3,585 milligrams daily.
Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that about half of us aged two and older aim for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily. The other half—those aged 51 and older, and adults and children who are African American and/or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease—are encouraged to taper intake to 1,500 milligrams daily. That’s the amount currently recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA).
Although a new report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) supports widespread reductions in sodium intake, it says there isn’t enough evidence to encourage the general population to lower intake to 1,500 milligrams–the lower limit set by current federal guidelines and the amount recommended by the AHA.
In a press release, the AHA calls the IOM report incomplete and disagrees with its key conclusions.
Still, many school-aged children—especially adolescents who increasingly eat away from home and have more of a say in what, where and how much they eat—consume at least 30 to 50 percent more sodium than upper recommendations. Cutting back to achieve current recommended sodium levels is a prudent step children can take to improve the quality of their diets and pave the way for a healthier future.
Here are five ways to help children shake out at least some sodium from their diets.
Know where it flows. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the top 10 sodium sources among children are pizza, breads and rolls, poultry, cold cuts and cured meats, sandwiches, savory snacks (like popcorn and potato, tortilla, and corn chips), soups, cheese, mixed pasta dishes and frankfurters and sausage. Offer these foods to your children less often and in smaller portions alongside more healthful, lower sodium fare.
Get the Facts. Teach your children to read Nutrition Facts Panels. Show them how much sodium different products contain and compare amounts in similar items. Choose items that are “low sodium” (140 milligrams or less per serving), “very low sodium” (35 milligrams or less per serving) or “sodium-free” (less than 5 milligrams per serving) more often. Items with 150 to 230 milligrams of sodium per serving provide about 10 percent of the sodium children should aim for daily.
Fill up on Fruits and Vegetables. Offering colorful produce—fresh, canned or frozen (with little or no sodium added)—provides potassium, a key nutrient that dampens the potentially negative effects of a high sodium diet. Even small portions fill up children’s stomachs and leave less room for saltier snacks. Some delicious options to have as a snack or alongside dinner include fruit kebobs, fresh sliced fruit sprinkled with cinnamon, a piece of whole fruit, sliced fresh fruit or fresh or unsweetened frozen berries over low-fat yogurt or as part of a smoothie, or fresh vegetable slices dipped in some vinaigrette or a low-sodium bean dip.
Snack smarter. To reduce sodium intake from packaged snack foods, children can swap regular pretzels for unsalted ones, or replace salty store-bought popcorn with popcorn popped in canola oil and topped with black pepper, oregano, chili powder or other no-salt seasonings. Raw or dry-roasted, unsalted nuts and whole grain ready-to-eat cereals like Shredded Wheat are also low sodium options.
Cook more, eat out less. Follow Michael Pollan’s advice to get back to basics and cook more at home. Eating less fast food and restaurant food—notorious for having too many calories, too much fat and too much sodium—will naturally help you and your family cut back on sodium. It’ll probably even help you eat more nutritious foods and curb calorie intake without even knowing it.
How do you and your family reduce your sodium intake?
Image of young mum chopping vegetables with twin daughters in a family home kitchen via Shutterstock.
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