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Family Dinners for a Healthy Heart

Contributors: Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, CDN

Reviewers: Academy Nutrition Information Services Team

Published: February 03, 2022

Reviewed: January 16, 2024

Family Dinners for a Healthy Heart"

Want your family to have healthy hearts? Start at the family dinner table. Not only do many adults consume too much sodium, many kids do as well. Eating too much sodium can increase risk for high blood pressure which can eventually lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. That's cause for concern since the average child consumes more than twice the sodium they need each day.

Choose Spices Over Salt

In the kitchen, think out of the box. Opt for spices instead of added salt. When you're cooking, reach for low-sodium seasonings such as fresh lemon or lime juice, fresh herbs or salt-free herb blends and vinegar to boost the flavor of your favorite foods.

Surprisingly, the salt we add during cooking and at the table accounts for little of our daily sodium intake. The main offenders are often packaged and processed foods.

Keep in mind that from a very early age, children's taste buds adapt to what they're used to eating.

Read Nutrition Labels

You can trim the sodium in your family's diet by carefully reading the Nutrition Facts Label when buying canned, frozen and packaged foods. Comparing brands and labels also can go a long way, as the amount of sodium in foods can vary from brand to brand by hundreds of milligrams.

Look for Foods Low in Sodium

It also helps to focus on foods that are naturally low in sodium. Eating more vegetables and fruit can help lower your sodium intake and increase your potassium intake. Produce contains little sodium, yet it's rich in potassium, a mineral that helps balance blood pressure. However, few of us get the potassium we require. Children ages 1 to 13 need roughly 2,000 to 2,500 milligrams of potassium a day, while teens and adults require 2,300 to 3,400 milligrams.

Top sources include vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes and spinach and fruits such as bananas, oranges and avocados. For children to get the potassium they need, aim for eating at least 1 to 2 cups of fruits and 1 to 2½ cups of vegetables each day; teenagers should eat 1 to 2½ cups of fruit 1½ to 4 cups of vegetables per day.

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