Body Mass Index (BMI), Grit and Whole Grains, and Low-Sodium Diets

Q: Can BMI (body mass index) be used to evaluate children’s weight?
Q: Are grits ever whole grain?
Q: When a doctor says to “cut back on sodium” or “follow a low sodium diet,” how much sodium is allowed each day?


Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Can BMI (body mass index) be used to evaluate children’s weight?
A: Yes, but the BMI figure must be evaluated using age-specific graphs; children would not fall under the BMI standards used to assess adults’ weight. BMI combines height and weight into a measure that is one tool for evaluating the healthfulness of someone’s weight. Children’s “normal” body composition varies by both age and gender. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics, children’s BMIs must be screened using separate boys’ or girls’ BMI-for-age percentiles. For example, a 10-year-old boy with a BMI of 21 would be in the overweight category, although a BMI of 21 indicates a healthy weight for adults.

Q: Are grits ever whole grain?
A: Grits are made from milled corn kernels. Unlike other grains, corn kernels do not have bran, but they have a thin skin that provides some fiber and a nutritious germ. Both are usually removed before the corn is ground to make grits and cornmeal. Whole-grain grits, sometimes called small hominy, retain the nutritious skin and germ. Whole-grain grits are much less common than conventional grits. Health food stores and mail order sources are often the best sources. Whole grain grits are grainy, with a richly sweet taste of corn that is more flavorful than the quick or instant grits you find on most supermarket shelves and restaurant menus. They take a relatively long time to cook (up to two hours, according to some recipes), however. Also, because the germ contains oil that grinding exposes, whole-grain cornmeal and grits turn rancid quickly at room temperature and should be refrigerated.

Q: When a doctor says to “cut back on sodium” or “follow a low sodium diet,” how much sodium is allowed each day?
A: It’s always best to ask the doctor because the amount will vary with the individual’s sensitivity to sodium and the medical reason for the restriction. Sometimes, however, doctors don’t have a clear answer and essentially just advise that you cut back from your current consumption. Cutting back sodium at any level will involve far more than reducing the amount of salt added in cooking or at the table. The American diet gets 77 percent of its sodium from processed foods, so a change in those foods is necessary. Processed foods high in sodium include canned or dried soups, processed meats and cheeses, seasoned rice and pasta mixes, sauces, salad dressings and snack foods. Average sodium consumption in the United States is about 2,800 milligrams (mg) daily for women and 3,800 mg for men. For general preventive health or as a first step in controlling high blood pressure, you might aim for 2,300 mg. For people whose blood pressure is more salt-sensitive (usually people over age 50, blacks and people with diabetes) cutting back to 1,500 mg is advised. People with heart failure, liver cirrhosis, certain types of kidney disease and Meniere’s disease may also want to aim for this level. Occasionally doctors may identify a need to go even lower.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research www.aicr.org

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