Kids often have odd tastes in food. Your adventurous little eater might think that chowing down on a pickle -- even a dill pickle -- is the height of fine dining. Toddlers certainly don't need pickles to fill any nutritional need, but there's no reason he can't eat one now and then, with supervision. Pickles start out life as a type of cucumber, but processing makes them nearly unrecognizable and destroys much of their nutritional value, so you don't want your toddler to substitute pickles for more nutritious foods as a steady diet.
Before even considering the nutritional value of pickles, give some thought to the risk of your toddler choking on one. Pickles have a tough skin and can be hard for toddlers to chew. Don't let him gnaw on a whole pickle, since he could bite off a chunk big enough to choke on. Cut the pickles into bite-sized pieces and watch him carefully while he eats it.
Dill pickles are off the chart when it comes to sodium content; sweet pickles are somewhat better. One large dill pickle contains 1,181 milligrams of sodium, or half of an adult's daily sodium requirement. Sweet pickles contain less, 160 milligrams in one pickle. Cucumbers naturally contain little or no sodium, so all the sodium found in a pickle comes straight from the manufacturer. Eating foods high in sodium as a toddler can increase the chance that your child will become a salt-a-holic later in life. Limiting sodium has health benefits even for babies, the American Heart Association reports.
Vegetables contain mostly carbohydrates, but most, including the lowly cucumber, contain little sugar. During processing, sweet pickles manage to add as many as 6 grams of sugar in one large pickle. This is actually about the same amount of sugar in a sugar cookie. Since 1 teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams, a single sweet pickle adds the equivalent of 1.5 teaspoons of sugar to your toddler's probably already high sugar intake. Dill pickles contain less, around 1.8 grams of sugar, but then you've got all that salt to worry about.
Jelly beans and other snacks aren't the only foods that have food coloring added -- pickles do too. Many commercial manufacturers add yellow 5 dye to pickles to brighten their color as well as preservatives. If you're concerned about the effects of dyes and preservatives on your kid's behavior, as well as the risk of an allergic reaction to this dye, put the pickle jar back on the shelf. Consider taking up canning and making your own pickles, adding less salt and sugar than commercial manufacturers use, if you can't live without pickles. Leave out the artificial colors and learn to live with slightly duller-colored pickles.
- USDA Nutrient Database: Pickles, Cucumber, Dill or Kosher Dill
- USDA Nutrient Database: Pickles, Cucumber, Sweet
- American Heart Association: Reducing Sodium in the Diets of American Children
- New York State Department of Health: Choking Prevention for Children
- Web MD: Sugar Shockers: Foods Surprisingly High in Sugar
- USDA Nutrient Database; Cookies, Sugar, Refrigerated
- The Lancet: Food Additives and Hyperactive Behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old Children in the Community: A Randomised, Double-blinded, Placebo-controlled Trial
- CBS News: Food Bloggers Start Petition to Drop Yellow Dyes From Kraft Mac & Cheese
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