Daniel M.N. Turner/NPR
Prepacked food marketed for toddlers can contain high levels of sodium
Prepacked food marketed for toddlers can contain high levels of sodium Daniel M.N. Turner/NPR
Feeding toddlers can be a challenge, so it's easy to see the lure of prepackaged favorites like mac and cheese. But many of those foods deliver startlingly high amounts of sodium, some with three times more than recommended in a single serving, according to a new survey.
The offenders include not just savory snacks but also healthful-sounding foods like pasta and chicken, according to Joyce Maalouf, a fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"It was surprising to see that more than 70 percent of the foods had more than 210 milligrams of sodium," she told The Salt. She surveyed more than 1,000 products. Some of the toddler meals had as much as 630 milligrams of sodium per serving — almost half of the 1,500-milligram daily ceiling set by the American Heart Association.
A stop in the baby aisle at a Washington, D.C., supermarket this morning found that Maalouf's numbers aren't far off. Though we didn't find any 630-milligram salt fiestas, we did find plenty of toddler foods with 220 milligrams and up. A cup of white turkey stew had 470 milligrams, and pasta shells and cheese had 450 milligrams.
Bistro Bowls, an organic meal of beef, barley and wild mushroom, had 330 milligrams of salt in a serving. "Bistro Bowls are your little foodie's foray into a whole new world of yum," the box proclaims.
Public health officials worry about excessive salt in children's food because it gets them used to eating too much, and could set them up for a lifetime of high blood pressure and health problems.
Parents should read labels carefully when buying packaged foods for children, Maalouf says, and try to stay below 210 milligrams per serving. Even easier, she says, serve less of the packaged stuff and more fruits and vegetables.
Maalouf presented her survey results at a meeting of the American Heart Association.
Last year a CDC study found that older children eat much more salt than they should, with overweight or obese children particularly likely to eat more salt. Salt is considered a key factor in high blood pressure, and children who develop high blood pressure are more likely to have the problem continue into adulthood.
Traditionally baby foods have been very low in salt, but of late salt has been creeping in there, too. And a 2011 European study found that babies fed bread and other adult foods like spaghetti were getting too much salt.
According to the CDC, the most common sources of sodium in children's diets: pizza; bread and rolls; chicken; cold cuts and cured meats; sandwiches; savory snacks; soups; cheese; mixed pasta dishes; and hot dogs and sausage.