You’ve probably made recipes that tell you to “salt to taste.” It means to trust your taste buds when it comes to adding the right amount of salt to a dish. The fact is the taste for salt is learned in childhood. Salt-loving kids turn into salt-loving adults – and that’s cause for concern.

Why? The number one medical problem associated with too much salt (sodium) intake in adults is hypertension or high blood pressure which increases the risk of stroke and heart attack. It’s a problem which starts early in America: 97 percent of children and adolescents eat too much salt, putting them at greater risk for cardiovascular diseases as they get older.

Eating less salt is an important way to help growing children stay healthy and lower their risk of chronic diseases when they are adults. Since we know sodium is an acquired taste, it is also reversible. Adding less or no salt and choosing foods lower in salt can help your child learn to like foods with a less salty taste.

What is the main culprit for salt in our kids’ foods?

While some dietary sodium comes from sprinkling salt on your food, removing the salt shaker from your dinner table is not enough. About three-quarters of daily salt intake comes from processed food, including breads and cereals, dairy products and processed meats such as hot dogs and lunch meat. To limit your child’s dietary sodium, you need to read food labels carefully. You’ll be surprised to find that even foods in the same category have different amounts of sodium!

Tips for making sure your kids consume less salt:

• Limit the amount of processed foods your children eat and also the portion size. Fast food, packaged snacks and convenience foods are among the biggest offenders in salt content.

• Choose fresh fruits and vegetables instead of canned or frozen, when possible.

• Learn to use spices and herbs to enhance the taste of your food. Add fresh lemon juice instead of salt to fish and vegetables.

•Specify how you want your child’s food prepared when dining out. Ask for your dish to

be prepared without salt.

• Take control of what’s in your child’s food by cooking more at home.

As you and your family take steps to reduce sodium, you’ll actually start to appreciate foods for their true flavor. In time, your youngster will learn to enjoy how food really tastes – not just the salty flavor.

Editor’s note: Dr. Daniel Zoeteman is a Family Medicine Physician practicing with Northwest Allied Physicians.

How much sodium is OK?

Ages 1 to 3: Less than 1,500 mg daily

Ages 4 to 8: Less than 1,900 mg daily

Ages 9 to 13: Less than 2,200 mg daily

Ages 14 to 18: Less than 2,300 mg daily

To cut the salt in your child’s diet:

•Serve fewer processed foods (the stuff in boxes, cans and packages in the middle of the grocery store.)

•Read labels on everything, including bread and cereal, and search for lower-sodium choices.

•Limit fast foods and restaurant and take-out meals.

• Serve more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Source: American Heart Association Dietary Recommendations for Children and Adolescents

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