Nutrition Trivia – Salt and Water

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Salt is in the news these days! A typical American diet is rich in salt because of excessive processed foods and junk foods. Most Americans consume a lot more salt each day than the recommended 2300 mg of sodium (about a teaspoon of salt). Some estimates suggest that adults get an average of 4000 – 6000 mg of sodium while school age children average 3000 – 4000 mg per day. That is clearly a lot!

Do you ever wonder why your child wants to drink a lot more water when they eat salty snacks? Although salt is very important for normal body functions, too much of it forces our body to demand more water so it can be diluted. Our kidneys work overtime to remove excess salt from our body, but they need water to carry it out. That is why sodium content inside our body is directly linked to water balance. A complex system of hormones in our body tries to keep the overall amount of liquid in balance, but consuming too much salt throws it out of balance. What is more of a problem is that our heart has to work against all this liquid which causes our blood pressure to rise. Done too frequently, this can lead to chronic high blood pressure and heart disease.

So what can you do? Here are a few tips:

  • First, be aware of sodium requirements in children – estimated minimum requirement for sodium in healthy children ranges from about 200 mg per day for 1 year old to about 500 mg per day in  children 6 and up.
  • Read the nutrition facts label on processed foods – we try to stay away from products that contain more than 15% of daily sodium per serving. Unfortunately, hot dogs and french fries fall in this category!
  • Get your kids interested in eating a home-cooked meal – this is probably a lot more difficult in practice. All I can say is that you got to keep trying and set a standard of family meals as a daily ritual.
  • Get rid of the salt shaker – a teaspoon of salt is really not a whole lot. Resist the urge to reach for the salt shaker on your table. If your kids don’t see you using it, they are less likely to reach for it.
  • Say NO to processed meats – salt is a natural preservative and most processed meat is prepared with a lot of salt. Reducing your meat consumption is a good idea, and when you do, get fresh and uncooked meat which you can prepare at home.
  • Eat more veggies, either steamed, grilled or raw – vegetables and other plant based foods are the best choice when you are trying to control your family’s salt intake. Nothing wrong in enjoying your favorite recipe that calls for salt, but they are most healthy when eaten raw, steamed or grilled. Saute in olive oil with onions and tomato paste if you want to add a little bit of flavor.

Both salt and water are critical for our survival and growth. We can’t live without them. Like everything else, too much of a good thing is not good either. With a little planning and preparation you can ensure a healthy balance.

Here are a few good resources on salt and managing it in your family’s diet

Shake your salt habit – American Heart Association
What can I use instead of salt – American Heart Association
5 ways to cut back on salt – WebMD
Salt: The Spice of Life or the Taste of Doom – The Yale Guide to Children’s Nutrition

Parents: what has worked for you in reducing your family’s salt intake? Share your tips below in comments.

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