Salt Intake: Knowing What’s Recommended for You and Your Child

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released new guidelines on the amount of salt we should all be having. Is this something that children and families should be aware of and how are these recommendations different from in the past?

Watch: New Guidelines on Kids and Salt Intake

Ashley: Thank you for watching On Call for All Kids. Today, we'll be talking about the latest recommendations on salt intake. We'll be discussing the new U.S. Food and Drug Administration's guidelines on daily salt intake, how this change affects children and families, and foods to be aware of that contain high amounts of salt. I am joined by Dr. Raquel Hernandez, she's the medical director of the Healthy Weight Initiative here at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. Great seeing you, Dr. Hernandez.
Dr. Hernandez: Great to see you too, Ashley, thanks for having me.
Ashley: So, the FDA has released some new guidelines on the amount of salt that we should be taking in each day. What do we need to know about this?
Dr. Hernandez: Yeah, so this is actually a really important change, Ashley, and it comes in realizing that as a country, we have a very high incidence of heart disease, where currently about four in 10 adults has what's called hypertension, or elevated blood pressure, and believe it or not, about one in 10 children also has hypertension. And so, we know that when children have elevated blood pressure, that puts them at risk for things like heart disease and stroke long term, and so, these recommendations come in understanding the science that the more salt we have in our diet, the higher our blood pressure becomes, and so if we flip that, we reduce our salt, our heart becomes healthier, we're less likely to be having elevated blood pressure. And what's interesting, is that it's very well known that currently, the recommendations for the total amount of salt that children 14 and up should have is about a teaspoon of salt which is 2,300 milligrams. But what's interesting, is when you look at what we actually take in, it actually far exceeds that. So, it's about 3,400 milligrams that most children and adults have. So, as you can see, we already exceed the recommendations, and so what the FDA did, an interesting approach, they decided to take a step-wise approach, where now they've reduced the intake to 3,000 milligrams per day with the idea that over the next several years, we'll continue to reduce the amount of salt within our diet.
Ashley: So, Dr. Hernandez, this seems like such a small change knowing we far exceed the current recommendations anyway. So, how will this affect families and children?
Dr. Hernandez: You're absolutely right, Ashley. There's still a lot of work to be done to really get to an overall, better amount of salt intake for all of us, but as pediatricians, this is actually a really important change, because what it is, is a call-to-action for the food industry, restaurants, even, sort of, public agencies that provide food for children, to really lower the total amount of salt that they're offering within foods, and that makes it much easier for children and families to make healthier choices and know that they're exposing themselves to lower salt foods. So, it's actually an important change, you're right, there's more work to be done, but we're very happy about it.
Ashley: And lastly, what are some of those biggest culprits of food that have that high amount of salt, that maybe we should think twice about?

Dr. Hernandez: This is such an important point, Ashley. It's really incredible how much salt is within foods that, really, we wouldn't think have salt in them. And believe it or not, there's a group of foods that really comprise about 40% of our total salt intake on a day-to-day basis, and they're relatively common foods. So, just to start going through them, the first are deli meats. Deli meats or sandwiches are really, really kind of full of salt, even the low sodium options still really exceed the total amount that we'd like our children to have. In addition, things like pancake mixes and cake mixes have salt already within them, and so, you can be surprised by how much they actually have. Things like coffee drinks, energy drinks, chips, crackers, cookies, pizza, as you wouldn't be surprised, is very heavily salty, and then having multiple portions, of course, adds up, and then soups and frozen foods, because they have longer shelf lives, and salt is a preservative, can really increase the total amount of sodium. One thing that surprises my patients, sometimes, Ashley, is even things like, for example, a glazed donut, actually, being as sweet as it is, has about 270
milligrams of salt. And then similarly, you take your typical Frappuccino or coffee drink, similarly has about 250 milligrams of salt. And that tends to add up, as you know, because currently, you know, 1 teaspoon is what the FDA had recommended. Now we're recommending 3,000 milligrams, but those add up very quickly.
Ashley: So, much like when we did the topic of how much sugars we're consuming in our food, and sometimes, we wouldn't realize how much sugar is in some of the stuff we eat, salt seems to be the same way. So, it's tricky. What is your recommendation or advice for families?
Dr. Hernandez: You're right, Ashley. It's the same approach. Generally, anytime that you can have food that is unprocessed or unpackaged, you know, that isn't in a can or isn't frozen, and if you're reading your food labels, you can make much healthier options for your kids and the family.
Ashley: Dr. Hernandez, thank you so much for joining us today. We really
appreciate all this great advice. My pleasure. Thanks for having me, Ashley. And thank you all so much for watching
today. You can also visit our website, There you'll find
more information about our Healthy Weight Initiative program and clinic, and you'll also find some more healthy
options for your lifestyle, food and snacks for your kiddos. We will see you next week.


What should parents know about how much sodium kids should have?

This is a really important change that children and families should definitely be aware of because it seeks to improve the quality of our diets overall as well as seeks to reduce the burden of heart disease within our country. Currently, more than four in 10 adults have high blood pressure and about one in 10 children have elevated blood pressure that puts them at risk for long-term heart disease and stroke. The science supports that when sodium increases, so does blood pressure and so therefore because of the correlation, reducing sodium intake will likely have a big impact on our health.

How much sodium should kids have daily?

The current recommendations state that we should not have more than 2,300 milligrams per day (1 teaspoon); however, the average intake of salt for most Americans is far above this at 3,400 milligrams per day. So, the FDA now recommends that Americans bring their salt intake down to 3,000 milligrams per day over the next 2½ years.

What impact will this reduction in sodium have?

There is still much work to be done, but this change is very important in that it will support the food industry, restaurants and others in the food market as they commit to lower salt standards. This change at the policy and systems level will make it easier for children and parents to make healthier choices when it comes to the food they buy and are exposed to on a day to day basis. As we shift these practices, we’ll be more likely to continue reducing intake on a step by step basis.

What foods contain the most salt?

Salt is in almost everything we eat and you would be amazed at how quickly this can add up recognizing that the total amount of salt we should have per day is about 1 teaspoon! In fact, about 40% of the sodium in our diets comes from just a handful of foods. Here are a few of them:

  • Deli meats/sandwiches

  • Pancake mixes/baking mixes

  • Coffee drinks/energy drinks  

  • Chips/crackers/cookies

  • Pizza

  • Soups

  • Frozen foods

A surprising example for many is a doughnut. A typical glazed doughnut contains 270 milligrams of salt. And a caramel Frappuccino has around 230 milligrams. Even foods that are sweet have salt! The more unprocessed food you can have the better. Look for things without a can or a package. But it’s always good advice to read the food label and make sure you read how much salt and sugar are in what you eat.

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