What’s so Bad About…Sodium

What’s so Bad About…Sodium

Whoa!  Did my smug little self get a big lesson while writing this post. I remember a report that came out a couple of summers ago warning Canadians of our salt intake. I read it with interest, but mostly dismissed the problems as someone else’s. I don’t eat a lot of processed foods, I certainly don’t eat Hungry Man frozen dinners, so I’m fine. Smug, smug, smugiddy, smug, smug.

But then there were more articles, and more and more. I began to glance at the sodium content on my food labels (but looking at the label is not quite the same as understanding what it is you are reading). What’s more, the problem with food labels is that they refer to adult daily values and have absolutely no bearing on what is healthy for children.

So salt is bad, right? Well, yes and no. The body needs salt. It occurs naturally in foods and is vital to maintain health.  Too little salt and you can get very ill.  But, for most of us, too much salt is where the problem lies. Here’s why : When we consume too much salt we retain water, and water in the blood means the heart has to work harder.  In doing so, it becomes damaged, causing cardiovascular disease and heart attack.  Too much salt damages blood cells which can cause strokes. Too much salt also adversely affects the kidneys who’s job it is to rid the body of excess salt.  And, there have also been links with a diet high in salt and stomach cancer.

I spoke with Rebecca Bergel, a Registered Dietitian/ Nutritionist in Toronto.  She helped me understand what a healthy amount of salt is for children and pointed out some not-so-obvious places where sodium lurks in high quantities.  “What children eat now can have a huge effect on their health later in life,” Bergel says.  “Reducing one’s salt intake could prevent premature death from heart disease and strokes.” That’s a compelling reason for parents to be diligent when it comes to salt.

So how much salt should our kids be getting?

infants 0-6 months 120mg/day

7-12 months 370mg/day

1-3   1000mg/day

4- 8   1200mg

9- 18 1500mg/day

The recent headlines have been proclaiming that the average Canadian is consuming double the recommended allowance.  More disturbing is that a survey conducted by Statistics Canada in 2004 (and cited in the Globe and Mail) concluded that toddlers were consuming more than 1,900 mg of sodium a day, nearly double what is recommended for them.  And 90 % of children 4 to 8 years old were not only consuming more than the upper tolerable amount of sodium for their age group every day, they were exceeding the maximum safe levels for adults.

Have a look at the link below – to take you to an excellent salt tracker – and see how well (or poorly) you’re doing:


“Watch out for canned or dehydrated soup, snack foods like chips, pretzels and crackers hot dogs, bacon and many lunch meats, fast food and f rozen foods, pre-packed pasta (Kraft Dinner), rice or potato meals/sauces, processed cheese and cheese spreads, instant hot cereals, vegetable juices, seasonings, and bread,” warns Bergel.  Her reply was a relief until I opened my own cupboards and had took a close look at some of my staples. Here’s my sodium sanpshot.  I’m not so smug any more.

Frozen Pizza (590mg sodium/  1/3 pizza = 1770 per pizza)

Reduced Sodium Cottage Cheese ( 290 mg sodium/ 1/2 cup = 1160 per container)

Organic Vegetable Soup (770 mg sodium/ 250 ml = 1225 mg per tin)

Organic Marinara Sauce 480 mg/ 120 ml = 3017mg per jar)

Organic no sugar added instant oatmeal (160mg sodium per packet)

Salsa (450mg sodium/ 50 ml = 4312mg per jar)

Tinned Pacific Sockeye Salmon 490 mg soudium/ 100 g = 1043 mg sodium per tin)

Tinned tomatoes (350 mg sodium / 125 ml = 2228 mg per tin)

Here’s what we can do to reduce our salt consumption.

The price we pay for convenience is sodium over load, in addition to avoiding processed and packaged foods. Bergel suggests limiting the amount of salt used in cooking, take the salt off the table, read food labels [and understand them], choose fresh vegetables and fruit over canned or jarred. One of the the worst offenders in my kitchen were my organic canned soups, which I ate almost daily. I will not be buying these any more! From now on, I’ll be making soup from scratch.

How about you? I would love to hear what your sodium snapshot is.  What’s the most shocking thing in your kitchen?  And what, if anything,  do you plan to do about it?

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  1. Karen Hay
    November 17, 10:57 Reply

    Great blog. Like you, I have heard the news about concerns of increased salt intake in kids, but have thought we eat fresh and healthy in my family almost all the time. This does not apply to us. This has inspired me to go home and take a closer look at the labels and start keeping track. Thanks for the specific maximums per age group. I shared it with our twitter followers to inspire them to take a closer look too. Thanks for the info.

  2. trixi rittenhouse
    November 17, 14:11 Reply

    An exposé not to be taken with a grain of salt.
    A “Sodium Snapshot” Is of a teaspoon.
    My {age related) daily recommended measured dose of salt is
    a pinch more than a half of a teaspoon.
    That’s meagre, that’s measly that is shocking!
    Is anyone worth their salt able to eat just one chip?
    Make no nevermind, Shakespeare said “Is not birth, beauty, good shape, discourse, Manhood, learning, gentleness, virtue, youth, liberality, and such like, the spice and salt that season a man?”
    Aunt T

  3. Heidi Pyper
    November 17, 14:45 Reply

    Hi Karen,
    Thanks for the note. I am glad you found it helpful!
    And Aunt T. You are a nut! Which, as you know, are really good for you.

  4. Lisa
    November 17, 15:39 Reply

    Great post Heidi!
    Everyone is so concerned about our sugar intake, that I think sodium gets overlooked.
    I think that my pantry may be bare after I have a look through it! haha!

  5. trixi rittenhouse
    November 17, 18:00 Reply

    Nut eh?
    My girth Heidi, my girth!
    Are you knowingly throwing salt on my openly known addiction to nuts?
    And that “Sodium Snapshot” you ask for, I bet “Say cheese please”
    is a no no too?
    She’s on a roll folks, just grin and bear it!
    Aunt T

  6. Heidi Pyper
    November 17, 19:13 Reply

    Sadly yes, Cheese is a bad one for salt – and bread – I love bread and cheese. I just couldn’t betray them that way.

  7. Melana
    November 18, 00:41 Reply

    Nice post. I think this confirms a couple of things I have been coming to in terms of some of the branding out there. Nature’s Path – I think this company needs to be brought forward for what it is – a fraud. When you get looking at the specifics on their products – high in sodium, high in sugar, and sometime fat too (which I care less about). And Simply Natural too. Have you ever read some of their ingedient lists – not so natural afterall. I have been caught buying their salad dressing cause it seems reasonably priced – bleck!

    That’s my two cents!

    But the salmon??

  8. Heidi Pyper
    November 18, 06:55 Reply

    Hi Melana thanks for reading and for the brands to look out for. I’m a sucker for the words simple and natural. The salmon? I know. The salmon is actually what provoked me into pulling things out and writing it all down. I was about to feed it to Ford and changed my plan. The rest of it, well …

  9. Christina
    November 23, 11:34 Reply

    Great article, Heidi! Sodium is one I’ve been in denial over for a while. Ava never cared much for baby food but was branded “a great little eater” as she gobbled up whatever we were eating. While it’s nice to not have to struggle to get my toddler to eat, I know that she’s likely getting more than the recommended daily intake due to our penchant for salt. Sigh…a good reminder!

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