Special Report: Is Your Toddler Eating Too Much Salt?

According to a new study, if you rely on commercial toddler foods, your tot may be getting too much salt

Do you know how much salt your toddler is eating?

It's probably more than you think. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the average daily sodium intake for kids ages 2 to 5 is about 2300 mg -- well above the recommendation from the American Heart Association (AHA) that most people eat no more than 1500 mg of sodium per day. And it turns out that commercial toddler foods may be part of the problem.

According to the just-released study from the CDC, most store-bought toddler foods -- more than 70 percent -- contain more than 210 mg of sodium per serving, and some contain a whopping 630 mg per serving!

"We were surprised to see that food products targeted mainly for toddlers contain too much sodium," says Joyce Maalouf, MS, MPH, the lead researcher of the study, which was presented today at the AHA's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions in New Orleans. "We also found that toddler foods are significantly higher in sodium than the baby foods targeted for infants."

That's concerning because well-meaning but time-crunched parents who routinely reach for pre-packaged toddler meals could inadvertently be setting their kids up for a lifetime of health problems. "Too much salt in a child's diet can lead to high blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke," Maalouf says.

A childhood diet that's high in sodium can also lead to a lifelong tendency toward salt. "Children are not born with a taste for salt. Their liking for salt develops later," Maalouf says. "The less they are exposed to salt, the less they will want it."

Want to reduce your child's sodium intake? Try these tips:

Feed your child a diet rich in fruits and veggies. Fruits and veggies are naturally nutritious, low-sodium foods. Together, fruits and vegetables should make up about half of your child's diet.

Limit the top 10 sodium sources. According to the CDC, the top 10 sodium sources for kids ages 2 to 19 are: pizza, breads and rolls, poultry, cold cuts and cured meats, sandwiches, savory snacks, soups, cheese, mixed pasta dishes, and frankfurters and sausages.

Check nutrition labels. The amount of sodium in toddler meals and snacks varies widely. According to Maalouf, some contain just 100 mg of sodium per serving, while others top out at more than 600 mg of sodium per serving. Choose products with the lowest amount of sodium per serving.

Ask your doctor. Your child's doctor or healthcare provider can provide you with additional tips to decrease sodium -- and give advice that's tailored to your child and family health history.

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