How healthy is your toddler’s diet?
Adults have been told time and again that those convenient, pre-packaged meals they pick up at the grocery store are loaded with added salt and sugar. But a new study finds that this same problem extends to prepackaged meals made for toddlers.
The study, published online in the journal Pediatrics, looked at 72 toddler dinners which could be purchased in major grocery stores in 2012. The meals, designed for kids ages one to three, were mostly high in salt (more than 210 mg per serving) and one-third contained added sugar.
“It was surprising that more than seven of 10 packaged toddler meals contained too much sodium,” says Mary Cogswell, study leader and a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “In addition, a substantial proportion of toddler food and infant and toddler snacks – even those we don’t think of as sweet, like toddler meals and salty snacks – contained at least one added sugar.”
According to the Institute of Medicine, children ages one to three should consume no more than 1500 mg of sodium per day. But the study researchers found that 79 percent of toddlers in this age group consumed more than that amount daily, which puts them at greater risk for high blood pressure as they grow older.
“A significant amount of evidence shows that one of the strongest predictors of what children eat later in life can be what they eat at a young age,” says Cogswell. “A poor diet in childhood can lay a foundation for future health problems such as obesity and cardiovascular disease, so it’s important to try to instill healthy eating habits early.”
Cogswell advises parents who are purchasing prepackaged meals for their toddler to look for those labeled “low sodium,” “no salt” or “no added sugar.”
“Nearly one in three children in America are considered obese or overweight,” says Dr. Adam Ebreo, an Advocate Medical Group pediatrician on staff at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. “With this in mind, parents need to be extra attentive to the nutritional content that is contained in different foods and drinks.”
Dr. Ebreo recommends that parents review food labels closely to avoid products that contain too much sodium or sugar.
“Packaged foods tend to carry more processed sugars and salts, so it is best to try to eat more natural foods to help prevent exceeding the recommended daily nutritional intake,” he says.
He also suggest parents check out the United States Department of Agriculture’s website ChooseMyPlate.gov. “It’s an excellent educational website that can help parents and children make better food choices,” Dr. Ebreo says.
On a more encouraging note, the study also looked at 657 infant foods (for those age four to 12 months) and found that nearly all were low in salt and most were free of added sugars.
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