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Excess Sodium a Concern, Even in Infants


Many of us were shocked a few years ago to learn of a growing incidence of hypertension and diabetes in children. Now, from the United Kingdom, comes a report that as many as 70 percent of 8-month-old babies there consume too much sodium, putting them at risk for kidney disease and hypertension later in life. As part of a longitudinal study, the researchers examined the diets of more than 1,000 infants born in the early 1990s. Their mothers kept a diary of what the babies ate, and the majority took in more than 400 mg of sodium per day, the maximum recommended amount. Many infants got more than twice that amount, according to the study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (The full study is not available for free, but a summary can be found here.) The culprit? Not surprisingly, the amount of processed foods in the babies' diets. Many of these parents were introducing solid foods early, at three to four months, and offering highly processed fare, like canned spaghetti and baked beans, instead of pureed fruits and vegetables and cooked cereal. Even when parents opted for foods they considered wholesome -- bread and boxed breakfast cereal, for example -- those items contained enough sodium to push intake levels dangerously high. A number of these infants also were drinking cows' milk, which contains more sodium than breast milk or formula. In the United States, parents are strongly discouraged from offering cows' milk before age 1 because it can be difficult to digest and lacks key nutrients babies need. The study's authors concluded that clear and practical education is needed on complementary feeding practices for mothers, highlighting what foods to introduce and when. Manufacturers, they added, have a responsibility to reduce the sodium content of food products. The picture is similar on this side of the Atlantic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which estimates U.S. infants are ingesting an average of 645 mg of sodium per day, almost twice the recommended amount. The AAP says it is pressuring U.S. food manufacturers to cut back on sodium. Infants who develop a taste for salt will find it more difficult to enjoy lower-sodium foods as they grow up. The consequences of excessive salt intake in childhood can be far-reaching, leading to kidney issues and hypertension, known to contribute to two-thirds of all strokes and almost half of all heart attacks.

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