Salt in Food | a child’s dietary needs

Salt in foodSalt in food — Salt, sodium, sodium chloride, soda (referring to sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda),  sodium nitrate, sodium citrate, monosodium glutamate [MSG] and sodium benzoate — these words are used interchangeably on nutrition labels to mean salt.  Once you start looking for these words on food labels, you’ll begin to see why there’s so much salt in some foods  and you begin to wonder if there are any foods WITHOUT added salt!  Even foods that don’t taste very salty will have salt in them.  According to the American Heart Association, 97% of American children consume more salt in food and drinks than recommended.

Salt in food is typically used to add flavor, but it’s added to foods for other reasons also.   Some forms of salt are used as preservatives to keep food-borne pathogens from growing. Salt is also used to bind ingredients, enhance color of the food, and it is also used to give food a firmer texture.

Sodium is an essential nutrient, but  we don’t need much in our diet to be healthy.  Kids ages 2-3 only need 1000mg of sodium per day, ages 4 – 8  years need 1200mg per day, and ages 9 – 18 years need 1500mg of sodium per day.  Take a look at a typical kids meal from McDonald’s


Chicken nuggets4 pieces 190 12 2 30 400 0
Small fries 230 11 1.5 0 160 0
1 pkg ketchup 15 0 0 0 110 2
12 oz Sprite 110 0 0 0 30 39
TOTALS 545 23 3.5 30 701 41


If a 5 year old ate this meal then he would have consumed 58% of his daily requirement of sodium in one meal.  That doesn’t leave much room for the other two meals and two snacks that 5 year old’s need daily.  How about a “home prepared” lunch

Mac n cheese½ cup 193 6 3.3 13 393 0
Water to drink 0 0 0 0 0 0
1 frozen unbreadedChicken strip 100 2 0.5 50 470 0
Tater tots 5 pieces 90 4 0.6 0 190 0
Ketchup 1 tbsp 20 0 0 0 160 4
TOTALS 403 12 4.4 63 1213 4


As you can see, the salt content of the home cooked meal is much higher than the fast food meal!  Prepared, frozen, canned, and boxed foods from our kitchen shelf and freezer all are loaded with sodium.  So we think that by cooking at home we’re doing our kids right,  only to find that we’re loading them with salt in food!  No wonder parents are confused and frustrated!

So what’s the big deal?   Why is salt bad for our bodies?   For some adults, salt can raise blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body.  This makes the heart work harder and can increase the risk for stroke, heart failure, and kidney problems.  A meal higher in salt also makes us drink more.  So, if your child is drinking Sprite with his meal, he’ll most likely drink more empty calories because the salt makes him more thirsty.  Your child will also acquire a taste for salty foods which can lead to overweight, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and a lifetime of health problems.

Salt in Food — limiting it:

  • Always compare the nutrition labels of foods and purchase the foods lower in sodium. You’ll be amazed to see the difference in sodium levels for the same food!
  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Limit the amount of processed foods you eat  (anything that says “enriched”).  Eat whole foods — whole grains for instance.
  • Instead of using salt when cooking and/or eating — learn to use spices & fresh or dried herbs to compliment foods.
  • Squeeze fresh lemon juice on fish and vegetables.
  • When eating out, ask for your dish to be prepared without salt or with dressings and gravies on the side.
  • Cook from scratch at home so you have control over what’s in your food.

Four Different Types of Salt

Table salt consists of cube-shaped crystals which dissolve uniformly in your mouth. Table salt crystals are smaller than kosher salt crystals and table salt contains additives to keep these small crystals from caking and clumping.  It’s usually iodized which has been fortified with the essential trace mineral– iodine.  1 tsp = ~ 2325 mg sodium

Kosher salt is different in texture & shape compared to table salt. It’s made up of larger crystals than table salt and has a coarse texture that is easily crumbled between fingertips for uniform and controlled seasoning of food. There are no additives to kosher salt.   A rabbinical inspection institution certifies the salt as kosher.   1 tsp = ~ 1760 mg sodium

Sea Salt  comes as either coarse or fine variety and  has a “pure” flavor.  It’s produced by the evaporation of sea water which leaves the dried salt as a crop.  It can take several months or years to harvest the sea salt, so it’s typically  more expensive than kosher or table salt.  1 tsp = ~ 1570 mg sodium

Light Salt typically has about 1/2 the amount of sodium as regular table salt.  It’s the same texture as regular salt and can be used in the same fashion for cooking as regular table salt.  1 tsp = ~1040 mg sodium & 1360 mg potassium


Salt in food is widely used not only in our own kitchens but in the food industry as a whole.  Mindful parents will help limit salt in foods offered to their child.  It’s all about making a healthier choice about the salt in food that we offer our kids.

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