There’s no question that food has become more convenient in recent years, but as grocery store shelves have become stocked with more heavily processed, shelf-stable foods, our health has paid the price. Especially in terms of daily sugar and sodium intake for kids, nutrition experts warn that we’re reaching a critical point.
How Much Salt & Sugar Are Kids Eating?
With a diet so rich in store-bought snacks, frozen dinners and restaurant meals, children across the United States are consuming more sodium and sugar than ever. According to the American Heart Association:
- On average, U.S. kids aged 2–19 consume more than 3,100 milligrams of sodium every day—over twice the recommended sodium intake for children and well over the adult recommendations, too.
- Children aged 2–18 consume an average of 19 teaspoons of added sugar per day (compared to the recommended upper limit of 6). This intake equates to roughly 17% of kids’ total calories and 65 pounds of sugar per year!
7 Tips on How to Reduce Sodium & Sugar Intake
For the sake of an entire generation, it’s clear that action needs to be taken to rein in our kids’ sugar and sodium consumption. The good news, though, is that we can all start today, right in our own kitchens! Here are seven simple and practical ways to decrease salt and sugar intake.
1. Go fresh.
American Heart Association research shows that roughly 80% of daily sodium intake for kids comes from grocery store and restaurant foods, with the top 10 contributors as follows:
- Cold cuts and cured meats
- Salty snacks, like chips and pretzels
- Chicken nuggets, tenders and patties
- Pasta mixed dishes, like spaghetti with sauce
- Mexican mixed dishes, like burritos or tacos
One of the best ways to meet the recommended sodium intake for children, then, is to cut down on these sources as much as possible. Since many of these salty foods are also loaded with added sugar, your efforts will be doubly worthwhile!
Instead of completely outlawing these foods at once, we recommend a slow, mindful approach that reduces them over time. To help your children adjust to less salty and sugary foods, try to take one step toward fresher food each day, such as:
- Substituting cheese-flavored crackers with a healthy junk food alternative like string cheese or air-popped popcorn
- Skipping the delivery and making your own homemade pizza with fresh, minimally processed ingredients
- Replacing your kids’ favorite high-calorie takeout pastas or fast-food nuggets with a wholesome alternative from Nurture Life’s kids meal delivery menu
- Serving freshly cut fruit or homemade popsicles instead of ice cream, cookies or other artificially sweetened desserts
2. Check the labels.
It’s always a good idea to check the nutrition labels, even for foods that don’t seem particularly salty or sweet. Compare labels side by side to help get a sense of how certain products are more mindful of their ingredients, and try to choose the option that minimizes sodium and added sugar.
3. Boil water without salt.
Salt does make water boil a bit faster, but it adds very little flavor to the end dish. Leave the salting until the final step, and you’ll have more control over how much total salt you’re eating.
4. Store the salt shaker.
Oftentimes we salt our food more out of habit than actual taste. If you keep the salt shaker in the spice cabinet during meals, you’ll model healthy behaviors for your kids by only salting dishes that really need it.
5. Make your own nut butters or choose unsalted options.
For the same creamy texture and kid-favorite flavor, forget the store-bought peanut butter and make your own nut butters in a food processor at home! You can also purchase healthier peanut butter alternatives or peanut butter with no salt, cane sugar, palm oil or high fructose corn syrup.
6. Be mindful of condiments.
While most of kids’ sugar intake comes from obvious “sugar bombs” like sodas, cookies and cake, smaller sources can also add up fast. To reduce salt, sugar and fat, keep an eye out for sauces like ketchup, sweet and sour, BBQ and ranch.
7. Watch out for bread.
Pre-packaged bread packs a surprising amount of sugar and salt. Always check the labels and favor whole grain breads with fewer ingredients and at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
How These Changes Can Help
By reducing your child’s sodium and sugar intake, you can help reduce the chances of many of these long-lasting health effects:
- Poor Palate Development: A 2017 study in Nutrients found that repeated exposure to foods as a young child can influence lifelong taste preferences. Too many salty, sugary foods in childhood may lead to a lower-quality diet over a lifetime.
- Elevated Blood Pressure: Children who consume high levels of sodium are 40% more likely to have high blood pressure, which is linked to high blood pressure in adulthood as well as premature heart disease and death.
- Assorted Health Risks: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids who eat too much sugar are not only at risk of high blood pressure but also high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity, tooth decay, type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease.
Still wondering how to reduce sugar intake or how to bring your family meals in line with the recommended sodium intake for children? Please share your questions with Nurture Life’s child nutrition experts by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org!