You might be watching your salt intake because your doctor told you that you should, but you probably didn’t think of how salt might harm your child’s health too!

A study released in Pediatrics this week analyzed diet intake data from 6235 kids in the U.S. and found that the kids were eating 3387 mg of sodium daily, about the same as adults in the U.S. Recommended sodium intake is less than 2300 mg daily for normal weight kids.  Worse, researchers found that risk of high blood pressure or pre-high blood pressure was up to 74 percent higher for overweight or obese kids.

If this is surprising, it probably shouldn’t be. We’ve known for a long time that Americans like salt and that sometimes salt can increase blood pressure. Even our kids are prone to these problems.  However, it is important to point out that the increase in blood pressure that occurred with increased salt intake in normal weight kids was tiny (from a systolic blood pressure of 106 to 109). The kids who were overweight were much more likely to have increased blood pressure as the result of salt intake.

The study did not talk about what foods were sources of salt in the kids’ diets, but in the U.S., processed convenience foods such as pizza, chicken nuggets, French fries and salty snacks often increase salt intake. With increases in these types of foods also comes increased intake of calories, fat and sugar, which may lead to weight gain. 

Thus, the “cure” to an increased risk of high blood pressure for kids isn’t reading labels for salt intake and following a low salt diet. Instead, families need to work to eat more of foods that lower the risk of high blood pressure, being overweight, diabetes and high cholesterol. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which is high in fruits and vegetables, high in low-fat dairy, and rich in whole grains, beans and nuts has been shown to lower blood pressure in both teens and adults.  In some studies it has also helped to lower weight or even risk of diabetes.

So what’s the lesson in all this?  Eat more foods that are unprocessed and rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium and fiber, which will also be lower in sodium.  Everyone’s health and blood pressure will be better if you do.

 Top Foods for a Healthy Blood Pressure:

  1. Fresh Vegetables or 100 percent Vegetable Juice (4-5 a day):  tomatoes, greens, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots and more. Add two at lunch and two at dinner or include them at snacks.
  2. Fresh Fruits, Dried Fruit, or Canned Fruit in its own Juice (4-5 a day): apples, oranges, kiwi, berries, plums, pears and more.  These make great desserts and snacks both.
  3. 3.     Low-Fat Dairy Products or Other Foods High in Calcium and D (3 cups a day):  1 percent, ½ percent of skim milk, almond milk, soy milk, hemp milk, low-fat yogurt, or part-skim cheese.  Include one cup of these beverages with each meal or have a yogurt snack with nuts and berries.
  4. 4.     Dried Beans and Unsalted Nuts (several times a week):  Black bean, pintos, red beans, garbanzos, almonds, walnuts, cashews, peanuts and more. Snack on trail mix made with whole grain cereal, dried fruit and nuts.

 References:

  1. Yang Q, et. al. Pediatrics. 2012
  2. Riley M, Bluhm B. American Family Physician. 2011.

Kathleen Davis is an outpatient dietitian at Cook Children’s Medical Center.

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