LIVINGSTON — Recent announcements from many of America’s food companies have outlined their plans to reduce the sodium content in their products. While a step in the right direction, the majority of children and adults in America consume more salt than they need. Children with diets high is sodium often develop high blood pressure, or hypertension, a disease normally associated with middle-aged to older persons, with potentially devastating results.
At one time, M. Isabel Roberti, M.D., Ph.D., Director of Pediatric Nephrology and Transplantation at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, saw few cases of “essential hypertension” in children. Essential hypertension is an elevated blood pressure that is not due to any clinical condition or disease. Individuals with a genetic predisposition toward high blood pressure usually experience the onset of essential hypertension in their 20s or later. In the last 10 years, however, Dr. Roberti has seen patients coming in at younger and younger ages with essential hypertension.
“I have seen over a hundred children with hypertension between the ages of 8 to 18 years old within the last couple of years,” explains Dr. Roberti. “This form of hypertension in children is completely preventable.”
In children, as in all individuals, hypertension can lead to kidney disease and/or kidney failure. It can cause a stroke as well as a heart attack, vision problems, and other damage to internal organs. Symptoms may include dizziness, nausea or vomiting; lethargy, headache; vision problems; or nosebleeds.
Focusing on Salt Reduction
Salt reduction efforts in the U.S. are considered by many to be unsuccessful because the majority of dietary salt comes from processed foods. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75 percent of sodium intake is derived from salt added to processed food, followed by 10 percent from natural salt content in food and 5-10 percent from salt added at the table or while cooking.
“While processed, pre-packaged and restaurant foods are commonplace in today’s society, the sodium these items contain pose a great health risk to children and their parents who consume them,” says Dr. Roberti.
Dr. Roberti believes that the only way for parents and children to know how much sodium is in the foods they eat is by reading the labels. She strongly encourages people to carefully check the serving size on the container and the milligrams of sodium. She recommends “avoiding foods that have more than 200mg per serving.” The sodium content must be multiplies for children who eat twice or three times as much of the serving size. On a daily basis, Dr. Roberti advises that children should consume no more than 2,000mg of sodium.
A key to healthy eating is choosing foods lower in salt and sodium. In addition to eating fresh fruits and vegetables which are naturally low in sodium, Dr. Roberti offers the following tips to help lower your family’s salt intake:
- Buy fresh, plain frozen or canned “with no salt added” vegetables.
- Use fresh poultry, fish and lean meat, rather than canned or processed types.
- Use herbs, spices and salt-free seasoning blends in cooking and at the table.
- Cook rice, pasta and hot cereals without salt. Cut back on instant or flavored rice, pasta and cereal mixes, which usually have added salt.
- Choose “convenience” foods that are lower in sodium. Cut back on frozen dinners, pizza, packaged mixes, canned soups or broths and condiments — these often have a lot of sodium.
- Rinse canned foods, such as tuna, to remove some sodium.
- When available, buy low- or reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added versions of foods.
- At restaurants, ask to see a nutrition fact sheet.
Since 1996, The Pediatric Nephrology and Transplantation Division of Saint Barnabas Health Care System has been improving the quality of life for New Jersey’s youngest patients with renal disease, renal dysfunction and hypertension. Started as the first complete pediatric nephrology service in the state, it has built on more than a decade of technical excellence, clinical research and advocacy for the growing number of families who are choosing the transplant alternative for their children. The Division treats children of all ages and performs more kidney transplants than any other facility in New Jersey. To learn more, call 973-322-5264 or visit saintbarnabas.com.
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