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Study: Toddler meals bought off the shelf contain too much salt



Boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese sit are on a store shelf on August 4, 2011 in Los Angeles. A new report says packaged meals for toddlers have too much salt.
Boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese sit are on a store shelf on August 4, 2011 in Los Angeles. A new report says packaged meals for toddlers have too much salt.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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Packaged snacks and lunches for toddlers contain too much salt, and many have unnecessary sugar, according to a new study published Monday in The Journal of Pediatrics.

Mary Cogswell, lead study scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and her colleagues studied a broad range of commercially packaged foods for infants and toddlers sold at retailers such as Target, Walmart and Costco.

They found that regardless of price — house brand or private label — toddler foods tend to be high in sodium. Meals labeled "organic" didn't equate to healthier, either.

"Just because something’s organic, doesn’t mean it's low in sodium," Cogswell said.

The worst offenders were toddler dinners, such as packaged macaroni and cheese, pasta and chicken, and pasta with meat sauce. Some 72 percent of the meals had too much salt.

It's not all bad news, according to Cogswell. The majority of all infant foods, as opposed to those for toddlers, are low in sodium, she said. The exception is baby snacks, which are generally less healthy.

"The good news was that for dry infant cereals, infant meats or dinners, infant vegetables and fruits, the majority of those did not contain added sugar," she said.

Cogswell said too much salt can lead to higher rates of heart disease and too much sugar sets up a child for obesity. "Taste preferences are set in infancy and when a child is a toddler," she said,

The study found that in some cases, toddler snacks had sodium levels equal to that of adult snacks such as potato chips.

"In toddler meals, we found a variation from 100 milligrams [of sodium] per serving to 950 milligrams per serving," she said.

Cogswell recommends that any toddler's serving not exceed 210 milligrams of sodium. The amount is based on the Institute of Medicine's upper level for children aged 1-3 years old, which is 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily, she said. On average, children in this age group consume about seven servings of food per day, so each serving should contain no more than 210 milligrams of sodium.

Researchers did not list brand names of the best and worst packaged food offenders. Instead, Cogswell said, parents should check every nutrition label before they buy and look for foods with no added salts or sugars.