Ravioli chops
Creative Commons License photo credit: World of Oddy

Fifth Alert

5. Excess salt content in commercially prepared toddler meals can be detrimental to a child’s health. Thanks to both the Canadian Stroke Network and Canada’s Advanced Foods and Materials Network, these five prepared toddler meals are identified and reported to contain high levels of sodium:

  • Gerber Graduates Lil’ Entrees Chicken & Pasta Wheel Pick Ups – 550 mg per serving
  • Parent’s Choice (Walmart brand) My Little Meals Shells & Cheese with Frankfurters  – 520 mg per serving
  • Gerber Graduates for Toddlers Lil’ Entrees Macaroni and Cheese with peas and carrots  – 520 mg per serving
  • Heinz Toddler Vegetables, Beef & Pasta Casserole –  470 mg per jar
  • Heinz Toddler Beef Stroganoff  – 420 mg per jar

The first one in the above list has a salt content equivalent to that of  “two medium-sized orders of french fries from McDonald’s, which is more than half of the 1,000 mg of sodium a toddler needs to consume in a day,”  said Dr. Kevin Willis, who is in charge of the salt awareness campaign for the Canadian Stroke Network. So, ” many toddlers  end up consuming closer to 2,000 mg.”

Dr. Willis also points out the following various health problems arising from excess sodium content in the diet of a ” child that small”:

  • high salt content causes increased blood pressure, which is a risk factor for stroke, kidney disease, heart disease and dementia
  • obesity
  • asthma
  • stomach cancer
  • osteoporosis
  • high level of dietary sodium damages the blood vessels over time, so clearly, the earlier you start in life, the more that damage accumulates and that likely translates into earlier onset of these vascular diseases

“This is currently being corrected and new packaging will be on-shelf in July reflecting the sodium levels for the consumed food only. The brine accounts for between 19 to 33 (per cent) of the sodium level depending on the recipe,” said Dr. Andrea Papamandjaris of  Nestle Canada Inc., which owns Gerber. “Beyond this clarification we are actively working to decrease the sodium level in our six Gerber Lil’ Entrees products.”

Health Canada’s Sodium Working Group, appointed in 2007, is developing a salt-reduction strategy for Canadians, which will include voluntary reductions of sodium in processed foods. However,  “some industry officials have responded to calls for less sodium by saying such cuts are difficult because Canadians have a taste for salty foods.”

“The popularity of the pre-packaged meals may be due to a desire from parents for convenience, but that isn’t an excuse for such high levels of sodium,” says Dr. Willis.

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