Parents trying to reduce how much sodium their children eat to avoid harmful health effects in the future have a new international guide as Parliament debates mandatory limits.

A bill to make the food industry accountable for sodium had its second reading in the House of Commons on Friday.


Pediatricians advise parents to hold the salt shaker. (Caryn Rousseau/Associated Press)

NDP MP Libby Davies' bill focuses on the 77 per cent of sodium Canadians consume from prepackaged foods.

If passed, Bill C-460 would phase in lower sodium levels in foods and add simple, standardized labels.

During second reading, Colin Carrie, the parliamentary secretary for health, said a regulatory approach is not required and that mandatory warnings can't be legislated for individual foods based on Health Canada's targets for categories like breads and cereals.

Mary L'Abbé, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto , is a member of the World Health Organization's nutrition committee. On Thursday, the UN agency recommended its first limits on sodium intake for children.

"What we're really doing is setting our children on a path to having the problems of adulthood at younger ages than we ever would have expected," L'Abbe said in an interview with CBC News.

L'Abbé is concerned that children are seeking out salty foods, saying the few studies done at children suggest they are at risk for hypertension — high blood pressure.

The WHO recommends that adults restrict their sodium intake to less than 2,000 milligrams of sodium, or five grams of salt per day, and have at least 3,510 mg of potassium per day.

For a young child who eats two-thirds as much as an adult, his or her sodium intake should be that much lower as well, L'Abbé said. In the absence of regulations, experts said it's up to parents to read labels, choose products low in sodium at the grocery store and ask for them at restaurants.

For Linda Douglas of Toronto, it's a challenge to balance her daughter's sweet tooth and taste for salt.

"If she's having avocado she wants to put salt on, she definitely gravitates towards the salty snacks like chips so we really have to keep an eye on that."

With files from CBC's Kim Brunhuber