Children | Back to Vulnerable Groups List
When children become fat it is essentially because they are eating salty food. Children are especially vulnerable to salt because of their small size and small blood volume, and because their blood vessels are weaker than those of adults. Salt, and the water it attracts to it, can more easily distend weak blood vessels than fully mature ones. The resulting increase in blood volume and other fluid retention results in weight gain, as well as higher blood pressure and many other undesirable consequences. The smaller the child, the less salt they should have - and a baby, of course, should have no salt at all. - Babies can die if they are fed salty food.
Because children have much smaller bodies than adults it would be best if they had no more than half as much salt as adults. Most children, however, have much more than this because they eat so many snacks and instant foods. Just one cheeseburger, for instance, contains almost double the recommended daily salt maximum for children. There are high amounts of salt in packet soups, instant noodles, ketchup and sauces, sausages, burgers and savoury snacks. Fat children will lose weight fast if they eat less salt. And even faster still if they eat plenty of fresh fruit and unsalted vegetables, because these are rich in potassium, which helps to displace sodium from the body. Overweight children should not be put on a diet; dieting is harmful and unnecessary and does not usually result in weight loss. Once children start dieting it is often the beginning of a lifetime of yo-yo dieting and increasing weight and ill-health.
Unfortunately bread contains a lot of salt and most families eat quite a lot of bread because of using it for sandwiches in packed lunches, and for toast, etc. Because of its high salt content bread is not a healthy food for little children or for anyone who is overweight. Some bread manufacturers have lowered the salt content of certain loaves, but most bread still usually contains 0.5g or more of sodium per 100g. This is far too much. - Always check on the packet; look for the lowest sodium content.
Cheese is often recommended as being good for children because it contains calcium, but cheese is not really good for children because it has a high salt content. So don't give them a lot of it. Children can get plenty of calcium by drinking milk and by eating yogurt (but avoid non-dairy yogurt and low-fat yogurt and the sort of yogurt that has lots of chemical additives). A low fat diet is not good for anybody, but is especially unsuitable for children, so whole milk is better for them than skimmed or semi-skimmed. And they should not be given diet food or diet drinks. Artificial sweeteners are best avoided, especially aspartame.
There are no calories in salt, but if children cut down on salt they will easily lose weight.
You may like to consider buying a breadmaker and making your own bread using very little salt or using LoSalt instead of ordinary salt. This is a good way to reduce sodium intake.
In the school lunchbox, try replacing crisps by a little packet of seedless raisins or a banana or a few grapes. You may like to add a tomato or a scrubbed carrot. A yogurt is a healthy way to provide children with calcium. And what about including a hard-boiled egg or a few unsalted nuts?
If you can't wean them off crisps completely, try to find unsalted or lower salt versions. And in sandwiches use unsalted butter rather than salted butter or margarine.
The Sodium in Foods page will tell you which foods are high in salt/sodium and which are low.
See also my Fat Retention page.
And please read my Disclaimer.
Try to find children's foods with less salt. Or provide home-cooked meals, without any, or without much, added salt, rather than commercially produced ready meals and snacks.
For breakfast consider providing porridge, ReadyBrek, Shredded Wheat or Shreddies, all of which have no added salt, rather than cornflakes or most other breakfast cereals, which have had a lot of salt added by manufacturers. Or consider unsweetened full-fat yogurt and a little fruit.
If your children are keen on beans in tomato sauce, look at the label on the tin. - Buy the tin with a lower salt/sodium content. Give them smaller helpings of the beans.
In general it would be good for children not to develop a taste for salt. Providing snacks of fresh fruit, a small portion of ready-to-eat dried fruit or unsalted nuts instead of salty savouries would help them.