Proper nutrition in childhood builds the foundation for good health throughout adulthood. This is especially important for sodium. While it’s essential for nerve and muscle functioning, too much sodium increases the risk of disease. Knowing the amount of sodium recommended from an early age, and watching the amount in your toddler’s diet, helps ensure long-term health and wellness.
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Sodium levels are carefully regulated by the body to ensure that the right amount is always available for the vital functions it performs. As a molecule capable of dissolving in water and creating a negative electric charge, sodium works together with the positive charge created by potassium to transmit nerve signals, allow muscles to contract and maintain heart function. Sodium is needed for some nutrients to be properly absorbed. It also regulates blood volume and blood pressure.
Children between the ages of 1 to 3 should consume 1 gram, or 1,000 milligrams, of sodium a day, recommends the Institute of Medicine. This amount is called the “adequate intake” because it represents the amount of sodium that covers the basic needs of healthy toddlers.
High Sodium Sources
Foods with some of the highest sodium content include canned products, processed meats, snacks and fast food items. A generic 6-inch submarine sandwich made with cold cuts has 1,651 milligrams of sodium. From fast-food restaurants, the typical single-patty cheeseburger has 1,108 milligrams, while a chicken sandwich has 957 milligrams. One cup of canned tomato soup has about 1,280 milligrams, vegetable soup has around 1,000 milligrams and beef stew has 947 milligrams of sodium. One cup of canned corn contains 570 milligrams, compared to one ear of fresh corn, which has only 13 milligrams. One cup of frozen green beans has just 12 milligrams of sodium, but the same amount from a can has 354 milligrams. Depending on the type of potato chip, 1 ounce may contain 170 to 280 milligrams of sodium.
Healthy, active toddlers are not likely to have high blood pressure unless they have an underlying medical condition. But just like adults, it is possible for children to develop high blood pressure from eating too much salt. Salt intake may also impact bone health. High sodium consumption causes the body to excrete more calcium. Too much salt in the diet, beginning in the toddler years and continuing for an extended time, may increase the risk for osteoporosis in the adult years.