Wednesday, 12 March 2014

How to cut salt in children’s diets

By Hannah Sherwood

If UK adults are still consuming way too much salt, what about children? Their recommended maximum daily amount is even lower yet their consumption is ‘worrying’, say experts. What’s gone wrong, and what can we do about it in Salt Awareness Week?

Adults should be limiting their salt intake to 6g a day, but the maximum amount for children is much lower, at 3g for five to six-year-olds, 5g for eight to nine-year-olds, rising to 6g for those aged 13 to 17. We all know children can find it hard to resist salt laden treats like crisps, but a new study shows the salt in their diets is coming from more unexpected quarters such as breads and cereal products (36%), meat products (19%) and dairy products (11%).

‘Children, particularly teenagers, are eating a worryingly high amount of salt,’ says Katharine Jenner, registered nutritionist and campaign director of Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH). ‘What is most surprising about this new study is that this salt is not coming from the salty foods you’d expect teenagers to eat, such as crisps and snacks, which account for just 5% of their daily salt intake, but from breads and cereal products, which don’t taste salty but account for a third of their daily salt intakes! Children are not choosing to eat salty foods - the salt is hidden in there by the food industry and they must take it out.’

‘Salt puts up our blood pressure – the highest risk factor for stroke,’ explains Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH). ‘Reducing our intake would save thousands of people from suffering and dying from a stroke.’ In fact, raised blood pressure accounts for 62% of strokes and almost half of all cases of coronary heart disease. But that’s not all. According to CASH, a high salt diet is linked to many other conditions, including stomach cancer, osteoporosis, kidney disease, kidney stones and obesity, as well as exacerbating the symptoms of asthma, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.

Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the study, says, ‘Childhood and adolescence is an important time for the development of our tastes and of food habits that can last a lifetime. Salt is a learned taste, so it’s worrying that so many of the children and young people in this study were already consuming more than the recommended amounts.’

Healthy Food Guide expert and nutrition scientist Bridget Benelam says, ‘It's important to check food labels for salt, especially those we eat everyday like bread and cereal. Although a lot has been done to reduce the salt content of foods, most of us are still eating too much. Look at traffic light labels for an at-a-glance comparison of salt content or check the nutrition information on the back of pack.’

Victoria Taylor adds, ‘The majority of salt in children’s and young people’s diets is coming from manufactured foods. This reinforces the need for continued food industry efforts to reduce the salt in their products. However, the adoption of colour-coded labels by manufacturers and retailers is also important as it will help parents and children make healthier choices.’

If a product has more than 1.5g salt/0.5g sodium per 100g of food it is considered high in salt. Aim for those with less that 0.3g salt/0.1g sodium

*When you do use it in cooking or at the table, measure it out with your fingertips rather than pouring liberally from the tub or salt shaker.
*Buy a salt shaker with the smallest hole you can find – and look out for grinders that can be adjusted so less comes out.
*Opt for fine table salt rather than coarse crystals.
*Don’t rely on flavoured salts – choose other flavour enhancers instead (see below).
*Consider a reduced-sodium salt alternative, such as LoSalt.

Instead of relying on salt, use these natural flavour enhancers:  
*Fresh or dried herbs
*Fresh ginger
*Tomatoes and tomato purée
*Lemon (and other citrus) juice and zest
*Chilli (fresh or dried)
*Red or white wine

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