How to Shake the Salt Habit

Some of your child's favorite foods are full of sodium. We've got a simple plan to help your family cut back.

Why Is Too Much Salt Bad for Kids?

As nutritional evils go, you might assume that salt is a relatively minor one for kids. A high-sodium diet seems like an adults-only health threat. Or is it? Kid faves such as ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese, a slice of pizza, or a grilled cheese sandwich each contain more than half the sodium a child is supposed to eat in a whole day. It's no surprise, then, that kids down two and a half times the 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams recommended by the Institute of Medicine.

Experts are already seeing the dangerous effects of salt overload. Studies show that a high-sodium diet contributes to high blood pressure in children. Though hypertension used to be rare in kids, 4 to 5 percent of them have it today, says Stephen Daniels, MD, PhD, past chair of the American Heart Association's Council on Cardiovascular Diseases in the Young. Along with contributing to high blood pressure, salty foods are often high in calories too, fueling the obesity epidemic. And because those salty meals and snacks make your child thirsty, he may end up drinking soda and extra juice, piling on even more calories, says Graham MacGregor, MD, professor of cardiovascular medicine at St. George's Hospital Medical School, in London.

Too much salt doesn't harm just the heart. Kidney stones, which were once a rare occurrence in kids, have now become a common childhood problem, according to Johns Hopkins Children's Center researchers. The likely cause: eating too much salty food and not drinking enough water, a dangerous combination that causes kids to excrete excessive amounts of calcium, which can crystallize in the urine as kidney stones. Taking in plenty of water helps prevent this process, but few children drink enough. Years of eating too much salt also encourages the growth of H. pylori, the pathogen linked to ulcers and stomach cancer.

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