New study: Toddlers taking in too much salt every day

Study finds risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke

Published On: Apr 15 2013 07:17:10 PM EDT   Updated On: Apr 16 2013 09:54:29 AM EDT
ORLANDO, Fla. -

Chances are most of the stuff you're feeding your children is loaded with salt. In fact, new research finds that nearly a thousand snacks and pre-packaged foods for kids have too much sodium.

Someone who keeps a close eye on that is Shanna Muigai, a mother who works hard to make sure that her daughters eat right. But she admits -- it's a challenge.

"It is tough to avoid salt when you're in a store, it is, cause it's in everything," says Muigai.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just looked at more than 1,100 foods. We're talking macaroni and cheese, pizza, chicken noodle soup, lunch meat, and snacks like cheese and crackers.

Nutrition experts say the results are alarming. 75 percent of food has too much salt.

"Unfortunately that's the American diet today," says Nneka Ricketts-Cameron, a dietitian at Arnold Palmer Hospital in Orlando.

She's worried about the amount of salt in food, and says that moms and dads need to be the first line of defense.

"Not too many people pay attention to sodium in foods," says Ricketts-Cameron. "I don't think we've ever been trained to look for sodium."

So, how much is too much?

The American Heart Association recommends, on average, that adults and children take in no more than 1,500 milligrams a day, or about half a teaspoon.

But, but the time toddlers get through breakfast, lunch, and dinner of high-sodium, pre-packaged food, Ricketts-Cameron says they're really taking in closer to 5,000 milligrams per day, or two teaspoons.

All that salt, day after day, can lead to serious problems for kids later in life. We're talking about heart disease, high blood pressure, and stoke. Because they're so used to the taste at such a young age, they could crave salt as they get older.

"Children pretty much set their diet early in life, and tend to follow that pattern later in life," says Ricketts-Cameron.

That's why she recommends tossing out the crackers, chips, and pizza, and switching to snacks like fruit, vegetables, yogurt, and cheese sticks.

"You can look for items that are marked reduced in sodium, or no added salt," says Ricketts-Cameron.

Something else to look for at the grocery store -- Ricketts-Cameron says you should stick to foods that have less than 210 milligrams of sodium per serving.