Bread, cheese and breakfast cereal are staples in most kitchens and pretty healthy, right? Well, now these everyday foods are in the firing line, with warnings they are putting toddlers at risk of high blood pressure, stroke and coronary heart disease in later life.
Researchers have found more than half of Australian toddlers have excessive salt intakes, with cereal, soup, processed meats and Vegemite the chief culprits.
Deakin University’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research studied the diets of about 300 children at nine months old, and again nine months later. They found at 18 months of age, 54 per cent consumed more salt than the recommended upper intake level of 2.5g a day.
Associate Professor Karen Campbell says the findings, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, are concerning because high-salt diets early in life “can set children on a lifetime trajectory of raised blood pressure, increasing their risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease as adults”.
“Parents naturally want to do the best by their children, however because salt is added to many of our daily basic foods, they are unintentionally feeding them diets too high in salt,” she says. “It is also worrying because we know that taste preferences are set early in life; so if you learn to like and prefer salty foods when you are young, you will continue to like and prefer them as an adult, adding to your risk of high blood pressure.”
She recommends six steps to reducing children’s salt intake:
- Buy cereal with less than 300mg of sodium per 100g.
- Buy bread with less than 400mg of sodium per 100g.
- Swap processed cheese slices for cheddar cheese.
- Swap processed meats such as sausages or ham or chicken slices for fresh meats such as grilled or roasted meats, chicken or fish.
- Swap yeast and cheese spreads on breads and biscuits for toppings such as no-added-salt peanut butter, tomato, avocado, or cooked lean meat, chicken or fish.
- Swap bread or biscuit-based snacks for fresh fruits and vegetables.