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Empowering Your Taste by “Shelving the Shaker”


This September, in honor of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, the Inside Track is featuring a four-week challenge from the American Heart Association (AHA), the EmpowerMEnt Challenge. This week, the Inside Track interviewed Dr. Elliott Antman, president of the American Heart Association, to get some more ideas on how families can “empower their taste” by shelving the salt shaker.

Week three of the American Heart Association’s EmpowerMEnt challenge focuses on Empowering Your Taste. A key aspect of that, as the Inside Track learned when talking with Dr. Elliott Antman, is helping families figure out how to lower the amount of sodium in their diets.

The American Heart Association’s recommendation is that people consume no more than 1,500 milligrams a day of sodium. But only 3 percent of American children ages 2 to 17 reach that goal, and three-quarters of them eat more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day.

These children grow up with their palates accustomed to high salt levels, from packaged foods such as breakfast cereals to dining out at restaurants with their families (75 percent of the sodium we eat or drink is in processed and prepared foods).

The health impacts of that are serious, Dr. Antman notes: 1.65 million people die globally each year from cardiovascular disease or stroke as a result of consuming too much sodium, and more than 57,000 deaths per year in the United States are attributed to sodium consumption in excess of 2,000 milligrams a day.

“Over many years people retain extra water, which puts an extra load on the heart, produces hypertension and puts individuals at risk for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease,” Dr. Antman explains. “Some estimates say that if we don’t do anything to combat this problem, eventually 90 percent of us will have hypertension.”

Studies have found that eating too much salt tends to increase the amount of calories kids (and adults) eat, too.

Because of this, Dr. Antman said, “It’s important to take steps early in a child’s life so that they don’t get accustomed to a high-sodium diet.”

What can families do to change this path? The EmpowerMEnt challenge website offers some low-salt recipes in English and Spanish that substitute flavorful herbs and spices, as well as tip sheets on the highest-sodium foods to avoid (some of the AHA’s “Salty Six” may surprise you!) and a plan to “Shelve the Shaker” (in which the kids’ job is to hide the salt and the parents’ is to figure out what to replace it with in family meals).

The Empower Your Taste challenge may last only a week, but learning to enjoy alternatives to salt may take longer—and it’s worth it. “We do know it is possible to adjust your taste, but it takes more than a few days to achieve that,” Antman said. Parents need to use patience and persistence and keep trying out lower-sodium food and drink options, he said.

“The transition isn’t something that will happen overnight. Parents can be advocates—don’t give up.”

Donna Brutkoski authored this article.

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