Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content


Salt, Part 1

Heath dangers in Canadian children start with high levels of salt Add to ...

It's a problem Kim Horricks of Calgary lives with every day. Her 14-year-old daughter, Amanda, is seriously overweight, is at risk for developing diabetes and recently found out she is suffering from high blood pressure.

"She doesn't tend to lean towards healthier foods, fruits and vegetables," Ms. Horricks says. Amanda's habits don't include a lot of physical activity either. "She's a teenager who loves her screen time."

Ms. Horricks is trying to give more fruits and vegetables to her daughter as well her 12- and seven-year-old sons. But it's far from easy. Her kids are picky eaters, and between work and errands, Ms. Horricks and her husband, Warren, seldom have the energy to cook from scratch. They tend to rely on packaged snacks for school lunches as well as oven-ready food that can be whipped into a quick dinner and the occasional pizza on the weekend.

When she reads nutrition labels, Ms. Horricks admits that she's still in the habit of looking at fat, sugar and calories, not sodium - even though she has a child with high blood pressure.

Jennifer McIntosh, on the other hand, knows exactly how much sodium her 18-month-old son, Tyler, gets. Ms. McIntosh has a family history of high blood pressure and heart disease, so when her son was born, she became a dedicated label reader.

What she found startled her: Tomato juice, sauces and even baby food were "astronomically high" in sodium. She wondered, "How can they sell this?"

Instead of compromising on Tyler's sodium consumption, Ms. McIntosh, who lives with her family just outside Montreal, made major adjustments to her shopping. She buys low-sodium products and has invested in a pressure cooker, which allows her to can her own stews and sauces.

She knows what a high-salt diet could do to her son's health, and she is not about to let that happen.

Not everyone who eats a high-sodium diet will develop hypertension. Certain people - including those with family histories of hypertension, black people and those who suffer from kidney problems or diabetes - tend to be more sensitive to the effects of sodium and at greater risk for high blood pressure.

Some food companies and industry organizations such as the U.S.-based Salt Institute have used the sensitivity argument to criticize population-wide efforts to reduce sodium consumption, saying it's unnecessary for most people. They have recruited doctors and scientists as experts to back their claims.

But even those who are not salt-sensitive today become more vulnerable as they reach their 40s and 50s. According to non-profit health organization Blood Pressure Canada, more than 90 per cent of Canadians who live to be about 80 will develop high blood pressure unless they take steps such as exercise and sodium control.

Catherine Yarema was only 28 when she found out during a routine physical that her blood pressure was high. Thinking that it may just have been nervousness, she continued to monitor it over the following months. Her readings kept worsening, and she decided to go to the hospital after experiencing intense headaches and heart palpitations.

A specialist prescribed two medications and told her that she would need to take them for the rest of her life. The doctor also instructed her to cut down on salt.

Two years later, last summer, Ms. Yarema found out that one of the medications had triggered an allergic reaction to gluten. She consulted with a dietitian and started to realize that even though she had long ago stopped adding salt to her food, her sodium intake was still high because of packaged, processed food.

"I was quite shocked," she says. She had no idea that ditching the salt shaker wasn't enough to control her intake.

Since then, Ms. Yarema, now 31, has completely changed her eating habits. In addition to avoiding gluten, she and her husband make all their soups, sauces and salad dressings from scratch, never adding salt. She brings a lunch to work religiously and no longer gives into the temptation of convenience foods.

Report Typo/Error
Single page

Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular