Tips to Reduce Salt, Oil, and Sugar (SOS) in Children

Urbanisation has brought about many shifts in our lifestyles, especially when it comes to what we eat. Unfortunately, these changes have led to increased consumption of salt, oil, and sugar (SOS) in our diets, particularly among children. This surge in SOS intake comes with grave consequences, as it is linked to the development of numerous non-communicable diseases. So, how can parents effectively reduce SOS in our little ones?

Breaking down the SOS

What is salt?

Salt, scientifically known as sodium chloride (NaCl), is a common ingredient found in many foods and often used to enhance flavour. Salt, or sodium, can be found in some whole foods (e.g. milk, meat, shellfish, etc.). However, a large portion of salt in our diet comes from commercially pre-prepared foods (e.g. instant noodles, salted eggs, canned meats, potato chips, etc.). Even condiments and sauces like oyster sauce, tomato/chilli sauce, and fish sauce can be high in salt.

Recommended Daily Intake of Sodium for Children

●        Infants (0-6 months): 120 mg

●        Infants (7-12 months): 370 mg

●        Children (1-3 years): 1000 mg

●        Children (4-8 years): 1200 mg

●        Children & Adolescents (9-18 years): 1500 mg

What are oils?

Oils are a type of dietary fat, which is made up of saturated or unsaturated fatty acids. They are commonly found in various forms (i.e. vegetable, nut, or seed oils). A significant portion of dietary oil intake often comes from consuming foods cooked in excessive oil like deep-fried foods and fast food.

Recommended Daily Intake of Oils for Children

●        A maximum of 2½ teaspoons of oil, butter, or margarine.

What are sugars?

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that is commonly associated with the sweet taste in foods and beverages. The most familiar form is table sugar, also known as sucrose. However, various other types of sugars are found naturally in foods such as in fruits and honey, as well as sugars added to foods during preparation as well as prepackaged foods. Excessive intakes of sugars from all sources are to be avoided. These include local kuihs, sweetened bubur, sugar-sweetened beverages in various forms. This contributes significantly to the excessive consumption of sugar in our diet. It is also important to bear in mind that excessive consumption of carbohydrate foods can also lead to excessive sugar intake.

Recommended Daily Intake of Sugar for Children

●        Sugar should make up less than 10% of their total energy intake for each day.

Importance of reducing SOS

Research has shown a clear association between excessive consumption of SOS and various health issues.

  • Excessive salt intake may lead to high blood pressure, hypertension, and stroke.
  • Excessive intake of fat and oil has been associated with an increased risk of developing obesity, coronary heart disease, and certain types of cancers.
  • Excessive intake of sugar results in a high intake of calories, which can lead to obesity, and an increased risk of developing diabetes and dental caries.

Tips to reduce SOS in children

  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Use the Malaysian Food Pyramid and the Malaysian Healthy Plate as guides to eating a healthy diet/meal that is balanced, moderate, and varied.
  • Create a healthy eating environment. Create an eating environment that encourages your child to make healthier food choices. This includes stocking the kitchen with healthy food options and limiting the availability of high-SOS foods.
  • Reduce salt intake. When cooking at home, use minimal salt and instead opt for natural seasonings (e.g. herbs, spices, etc.). It is also important to limit the intake of salty snacks (e.g. potato chips, keropok lekor, etc.). Parents should also choose lower-sodium packaged foods when grocery shopping – this is also the perfect time to teach children how to read nutrition labels.
  • Reduce oil and fat intake. When cooking, choose leaner meat options or discard any excess fats (i.e. removing poultry skin). Parents should also adopt healthier cooking methods (i.e. steaming, stewing, and grilling) instead of deep frying. It is also important to use fats and oils sparingly when cooking. Finally, parents should limit the intake of fast foods and unhealthy snacks in children.
  • Reduce sugar intake. Substitute sugary treats with healthier food options such as fresh fruits, vegetables, cereal bars, etc. Parents should also limit the intake of sweet desserts in their children, opting to indulge in them occasionally. It is also important to reduce the consumption of beverages with added sugar (e.g., sugar-sweetened drinks in packages and cans, bubble tea, teh tarik).

By cutting back on salt, oil, and sugar (SOS), parents can help their little ones make healthier food choices, ultimately preventing the development of non-communicable diseases. By making small adjustments, parents can take proactive and preventive actions early, which can make a significant difference in their child’s long-term health.

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