We’re always hearing about the negative effects of high salt intake. Too much sodium in our diets has been linked to higher risk of stroke, heart disease and certain types of cancers. Yet, it’s difficult for many people to avoid. Considering the idea that most of the sodium we consume is as a result of processed foods and not the salt shakers at our kitchen tables, the only way we can confidently reduce our sodium intake is to prepare our meals at home from scratch. And that’s something that becomes even more challenging when we focus on teenagers, who are out and about and generally eat their way through the day outside of our kitchens. Concerns about what high levels of sodium mean for overweight and obese teens are just now coming to light.
In a new study presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology & Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity & Metabolism Scientific Sessions 2014, researchers found that overweight teenagers who consume too much salt exhibit signs of faster cell aging.
In their study, the researchers divided 766 subjects, who were between 14 and 18-years old, into two groups based on whether they consume more than 4,100 mg of salt a day or less than 2,400 mg of salt a day. The subjects in both groups notably consume more than the American Heart Association’s recommended 1,500 mg of salt serving per day.
The researchers observed that the protective ends of the chromosome called telomeres, which naturally shorten with age, were much shorter in overweight and obese subjects with high salt intake but not in teens with normal weight but high salt intake.
“Even in these relatively healthy young people, we can already see the effect of high sodium intake, suggesting that high sodium intake and obesity may act synergistically to accelerate cellular aging,” said study lead author Haidong Zhu, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Medical College of Georgia, Georgia Regents University in Augusta, Georgia.
Zhu said that overweight teenagers who want to reduce their risk of heart disease should consider reducing their salt intake and this may even be easier than losing weight.
“Lowering sodium intake, especially if you are overweight or obese, may slow down the cellular aging process that plays an important role in the development of heart disease,” Zhu said. “Lowering sodium intake may be an easier first step than losing weight for overweight young people who want to lower their risk of heart disease.”
Zhu also pointed out that most of the salt in the diet comes from processed food and urged parents to prepare fresh and healthier foods more often.
“The majority of sodium in the diet comes from processed foods, so parents can help by cooking fresh meals more often and by offering fresh fruit rather than potato chips for a snack,” Zhu said.
Encouraging teens to eat real food can be a challenge. Certainly it’s good advice to cook fresh meals as often as possible. Yet, even parents who prepare meals from scratch every day face the issue that teenagers are spending less time in the home than they did when they were younger. FoodFacts.com likes the idea of choosing a variety of healthier snacks for the home, in hopes of finding a few that teens can seek out when they’re outside the home. It may help us help them to make healthier choices when we’re not there to guide them.