Table of contents
- Is salt harmful for babies?
- What happens if my baby eats salt?
- When can my baby eat salt?
- How much salt is ok for babies?
- How do you know if your baby has too much salt?
- How to avoid or reduce the amount of salt in your baby’s diet?
- To sum it all up
As a parent, you may be wondering whether your baby can have salt. And if so, as of what age, and how much. You may also be curious to know what would happen if your baby has more salt than is recommended.
In this article, I give you the lowdown on salt for babies, including how much salt is ok for your baby to have, and how to tell whether you’ve given your baby too much salt.
Is salt harmful for babies?
Salt contains sodium, a nutrient that we all need in our diet, babies included.
However, a baby’s body isn’t yet able to cope with large amounts of sodium. So they only need this nutrient in very small amounts.
Babies that get too much salt can experience a range of issues, which is why parents are encouraged to limit the amount of salt in their baby’s diet.
What happens if my baby eats salt?
Two of the most common reasons why babies may receive too much salt are (1, 2):
- Parents add salt to baby food hoping to improve its taste and encourage their baby to eat.
- The soduium-rich family meals are shared with the baby.
However, a baby that gets too much salt can run into a few issues.
For starters, a baby’s kidneys are still immature, so they aren’t able to filter out excess salt as efficiently as an adult’s kidneys would. This means that a diet that’s too rich in salt may put a strain on your child’s kidneys (3).
Second, babies are born with a natural preference for sweet- and salty-tasting foods. Feeding them a salt-rich diet can strengthen this natural preference, which can affect their food preferences as they grow up (1, 4, 5, 6).
This can result in your child much preferring the taste of a nutrient-poor ,yet salty-tasting processed foods over that of a nutrient-rich food that is naturally less salty. For instance, processed veggie nuggets over cooked vegetables (5, 7, 8, 9, 10).
Finally, a diet that’s too rich in salt can cause your baby’s blood pressure to rise. Salt can raise blood pressure in adults too, but research suggests that babies may be even more sensitive to its effects (3).
Experts believe that babies fed a salt-rich diet may grow up to have a higher risk of high blood pressure and heart disease than those fed lower amounts of salt (11, 12, 13).
So babies have a lot to gain from not being given too much salt.
In sum – Salt contains sodium, a nutrient that babies need in small amounts. Babies fed too much sodium may experience strain on the kidneys, a high blood pressure, and a lifelong preference for salty foods.
When can my baby eat salt?
Babies under one year old can meet all of their daily sodium needs from breastmilk or formula together with the small amounts of sodium naturally present in unprocessed foods.
In other words, babies under one year old shouldn’t be given any extra salt.
After your baby turns one, it’s ok for them to start having a little bit more salt. But the overall amount of salt in their diet should remain small.
How much salt is ok for babies?
So how much salt is ok for older babies and small children to have?
Daily sodium recommendations vary slightly, based on where you live. However, any difference is unlikely to be drastic (4,6).
For example, in Europe, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) considers 1.1 grams of sodium per day safe for children 1-3 years old. That’s about the equivalent of half a teaspoon (2.8 grams) of table salt (14).
On the other hand, experts in North-America recommend that children in that same age group get no more than 800 mg of sodium per day – or the equivalent of 0.4 (2 grams) of table salt (15).
Now, I don’t think you actually need to tally up all the sodium you give your child each day. But it may be worth keeping these numbers in mind when deciding whether or not to give your baby a certain packaged food.
In sum – Babies under one year old should not be given any added salt at all. Slightly older children may have up to 0.8-1.1 grams of sodium (around 1/2 teaspoon of salt) per day.
How do you know if your baby has too much salt?
A baby that’s eaten too much salt will have too much sodium circulating in the blood – a condition known as hypernatremia.
You can tell whether your child is experiencing hypernatremia by looking out for these symptoms (16):
- Extreme thirst
- Doughy or velvety skin
- High-pitched crying
- Agitation and irritability
If left untreated, hypernatremia can cause your baby to go from feeling agitated and irritable, to becoming drowsy, lethargic, and eventually, unresponsive (16).
That said, severe cases of hypernatremia are extremely rare and luckily don’t typically result from accidentally using a little too much salt when preparing your baby’s meal.
In sum – Babies who’ve had too much salt may become extremely thirsty, distressed, agitated or irritable. If left untreated, high blood sodium levels may cause a baby to become drowsy or unresponsive.
How to avoid or reduce the amount of salt in your baby’s diet
Here are a few ways to avoid or minimize salt in your baby’s diet.
- Check food labels: baby purees usually contain no salt. However, it’s always worth checking their label to make sure of this. For older children, try picking foods with minimal amounts of added salt.
- Add salt to meals separately: reserve a salt-free portion of the family meal for your baby before adding salt to the rest. Even better, get in the habit of using herbs and spices instead of salt to add flavor to meals.
- Rinse canned foods: canned foods are rich in salt. However, you can remove most of this salt by rinsing them well before serving them to your child or adding them to meals.
- Minimize restaurant or takeout meals: restaurants typically add generous amounts of salt to their meals. When eating out, try bringing a few foods from home for your child, especially if they’re under one year old.
The salt shaker is seldom to blame
It’s worth mentioning that as a society, we often eat more salt than what’s recommended. Yet, the salt shaker is seldom the biggest contributor to this.
Generally, the largest proportion of sodium in our diet actually comes from the processed foods we eat.
That’s why limiting the amount of processed foods you bring into your home can naturally help reduce your family’s daily sodium intake.
We all know that the more processed a food is, the less nutritious it tends to be. But sometimes, it takes the arrival of a baby to improve the whole family’s nutrition habits.
That’s not to say that if your baby has salt once in a blue moon, you should overly stress about it.
If you do your best to offer them a minimally processed, low-sodium diet most of the time, the impact of one higher-salt meal on your baby’s overall health will likely be minimal.
In sum – You can minimize the amount of sodium in your baby’s diet by limiting processed or packaged foods. Using spices and herbs instead of salt to flavor meals can also help.
To sum it all up
Salt contains sodium, a nutrient we all need in our diets, babies included. However, babies aren’t yet able to cope with large amounts of sodium.
A baby that eats too much salt may experience a strain on their kidneys and a rise in blood pressure. Babies fed too much salt also risk developing a lifelong preference for salty tasting foods, which can influence the diet choices they make later on.
You can limit the amount of salt in your baby’s diet by reading food labels and offering them minimally-processed foods whenever possible. Getting into the habit of seasoning meals with herbs and spices instead of salt can also help.
How do you limit the amount of salt in your baby’s diet? Feel free to share any useful tips in the comments down below!
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