Food Standards Australia estimates that 2 year-old Australian children are typically consuming 2,150mgs of sodium per day on average, from around 5.5grams of table salt.(1) This amount is approximately five-times the average daily intake of sodium recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council for children aged 1 – 3 years old.(2)
Sodium chloride, commonly known as table salt, is often added to processed and prepared foods as a preservative and flavour enhancer. However, table salt is not the only source of sodium in the typical modern diet. Sodium bicarbonate is another form of salt added to self raising flour as a raising agent. Some food additives, such as sodium ascorbate (a form of vitamin C), sodium saccharin (a sweetener), and sodium metabisulphite (preservative), add to the amount of sodium we consume daily. Sodium itself is a commonly occurring element and is naturally present in most foods.
It isn’t just treats and snacks, such as potato chips and biscuits, which can be high in sodium. Other foods that are considered staples in our diet can also be surprisingly high in sodium, for example; bread, meat products, cereals, savoury sauces and condiments (including products like baked beans) and cheese.(1) Sodium is also present is some foods you may not expect it to occur in, such as milk.
But the main source of sodium in our diets is sodium chloride, estimated to provide around 90% of our dietary sodium intake.(1)
DO I NEED SODIUM IN MY DIET?
Yes. Sodium is a natural mineral that is used by your body to control fluid balance; maintaining blood volume and blood pressure. Sodium is also important for regulating your body’s acid-base level, utilised in nerve-signal conduction and facilitating the passage of various other nutrients into cells.
Your body continually regulates its’ level of sodium, your intestines absorb it and your kidneys filter it from your blood, excreting it in urine each day. So we do require some salt in our diet to assist in replacing the sodium we lose. However, the amount of sodium we need daily is equivalent to approximately one quarter of a teaspoon of table salt in total.
WHY IS TOO MUCH SODIUM BAD?
The effects of a high sodium diet are not always immediate. Too much sodium in your diet increases your blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, possibly resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
A high sodium diet also leads to fluid retention, resulting in swelling of the legs and feet, and may also cause water to collect around the lungs causing shortness of breath. It is for this reason that high sodium in children is a particular concern as it can trigger fatigue, confusion, headaches, muscle cramps and nausea. All of which can impact on a child’s ability to learn and develop normally.
HOW MUCH SODIUM SHOULD MY CHILDREN AND I CONSUME?
The National Health and Medical Research Council recommend the following average daily intakes of sodium.(2) These guidelines have been converted to grams of sodium chloride, for your convenience; 1 gram of sodium chloride contains 390 mg of sodium.(2) However, there are other sources of sodium in your diet besides table salt;
(milligrams of sodium)
Daily Average Intake
(grams of sodium chloride)
0 – 6 months
7 – 12 months
1 – 3 years
200 – 400
0.51 – 1.03
4 – 8 years
300 – 600
0.77 – 1.54
9 – 13 years
400 – 800
1.03 – 2.05
14 – 18+ years
460 – 920
1.18 – 2.36
These recommendations are a practical guide. Consult your health care professional if you have any health concerns, or for a dietary recommendation specific to your needs.
The current National Health and Medical research Council recommendation for the Australian adult population in general is that dietary sodium intake be under 2,300mg of sodium per day. This is equivalent to approximately 6 grams of sodium chloride.(3)
IS MY TODDLER CONSUMING TOO MUCH SODIUM?
A toddler can easily exceed twice their recommended daily average intake of sodium by lunch time, which is 400mgs sodium for children aged 1 – 3 years.
¾ cup cereal
50ml full cream cows’ milk
2 slices wholemeal bread
Total mgs of sodium
*Please note the mgs of sodium per item can vary from brand to brand.
TIPS TO REDUCE YOUR SALT INTAKE
Become aware of the salt content in the foods you consume. For example, salt content in both wholemeal and white bread is often similar. Buying fresh from a bakery is no guarantee of low salt content, bakeries often use more salt than you might find in other store-bought breads to improve the flavour of their product.
Invest in a bread maker; only purchase low-salt ingredients for the dough.
Avoid Take-away foods. Some burgers can deliver 100%+ of your recommended daily average intake of sodium.
Choose products with ‘No Added Salt’ over being ‘Salt-Reduced’. ‘Salt-Reduced’ generally means the product contains approximately 75% of the salt you would find added to the regular version of the same product. If the added salt content of the regular version is high to begin with, reducing this by one quarter is not necessarily going to make the ‘Salt-Reduced’ version particularly low in salt.
When reading product labels remember any Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) values that may be quoted are usually based on the dietary requirements of adults, not children.
Explore the wonderful range of herbs and spices readily available to most Australians to flavour your food, instead of using salt. Variety is the spice of life.