The human body needs some sodium to help maintain fluid balance, transmit nerve impulses and for muscle activity. In general, the modern diet is high in sodium and deficiencies are rare.
Dietary sodium in excess of our needs is eliminated by the kidneys. If this elimination is hindered, sodium increases in the blood stream and attracts and holds water. As a consequence blood volume increases, which makes the heart work harder and increases arterial pressure. Some people are more sensitive to the effects of sodium than others. These people retain sodium more easily. High levels of sodium intake have been linked to hypertension in adults, which is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and congestive heart failure.
A 2007 survey found that Australian children aged between 2 and 16 years are, on average, consuming levels of sodium far above those recommended for good health. Similar studies in the UK and US have found the same trends.
The link between sodium and hypertension in children is not as well established or as dramatic as that found in adults, however, several studies have reported increased blood pressure readings in children consuming higher quantities of sodium.
Blood pressure has been shown to track from childhood to adulthood where the health consequences are more pronounced. Although, this tracking may be due to genetic rather than lifestyle factors (or a combination of both).
There is also some evidence that developing a taste for salty food may influence food choice throughout the lifespan.
Another possible consequence of high sodium intake in our children is an increase in thirst which drives the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages. Sugar sweetened beverage consumption has been linked to overweight and obesity.
This table is a guide to the amount of sodium a child should be consuming per day. The adequate intake is an amount calculated to safely meet physiological needs. The upper limit is the amount which should not be exceeded in order to prevent short-term toxic effects, although chronic health effects can still occur at levels below the upper limit.
|Children Age (years)||Sodium Adequate Intake mg/day||Sodium Upper Limit mg/day|
Strategies for reducing sodium in the diet:
– Don’t add salt while cooking or to foods at the table
– Try to avoid products with more than 200 mg of sodium per serving (check your labels). Generally highly processed foods and cereal products contain more sodium, as well as preserved meats, sauces, cheeses and snack foods.
– Increasing fruit, vegetables and whole grains in the diet should naturally reduce sodium.
– Australian adults and adolescents over 14 years of age have a suggested dietary target of 1600mg/ day of sodium to ensure optimal health and assist in prevention of chronic disease.