Salt and weaning for babies and toddlers
Salt is a tricky one, we know we don’t need too much of it but it was one thing I struggled to get clarity on throughout the time I was weaning my twins. Too much is a bad thing of course, but how much is too much and why is it so bad for little ones? And what’s the difference between sodium content and salt content?
I had lots of questions, but as so often seems to happen, I had no time to find proper answers to them. I hope this blog post helps!
What’s so bad about salt?
Salt is not great for any of us, whether we are one or ninety one. Too much salt puts our kidneys under pressure and leads to high blood pressure and eventual kidney damage
So here’s the science bit (I always like to understand the why!) – our kidneys are essential for removing waste and fluids from our body and anything that stops them doing their job, poses a risk to our bodies. As blood passes through the kidneys, the kidneys filter out the fluids we don’t need and send them to our bladders to get rid of as urine. If there is too much salt in our blood, the delicate filtering process is upset, the kidneys can’t remove excess water from the blood and our blood pressure rises. This puts strain on the little blood vessels entering the kidneys and over time can lead to kidney damage.
Why is too much salt a problem for babies and toddlers?
Babies have very fragile little systems and their kidneys are particularly sensitive. They are unable to process excess salt which leads to kidney damage in the same way that it can for adults. Their tiny bodies are just a lot more sensitive to any imbalances than ours.
What safe levels of salt for your baby or toddler?
According to the NHS the recommended daily amounts of salt for babies and toddlers are:
- Up to 12 months – less than 1g of salt a day (less than 0.4g sodium)
- 1 to 3 years – 2g of salt a day (0.8g sodium)
What’s the difference between salt and sodium content?
Salt is made up of two minerals, sodium and chloride, and food manufacturers often quote only the sodium content on food labels. This can sometimes be confusing if you are thinking in terms of salt content and how much salt your little one can have. Salt is made up of about 40% sodium and it’s the sodium content of salt that causes the health issues.
To work out salt content from quoted sodium values, simply use the sodium figure on the packing and multiply it by 2.5. This is your salt content! If you see 1g of sodium per 100g on the label, this is the equivalent of 2.5g of salt per 100g. To find out the amount of salt per serving, just divide by 100 and multiply the answer by the serving size.
Salt and weaning your baby
At the beginning of your weaning journey, your baby will still be reliant on milk. Breast milk has exactly what your little one needs in terms of sodium, and equally formula milk has also been designed to provide exactly the right amount for babies and toddlers, so no worries there! But as you introduce solid food, it is really crucial to keep an eye on the salt content of the food you give your baby. The most important things are to avoid processed foods not designed for babies, and to avoid adding salt to any home cooked baby food.
How to reduce the amount of salt you give your baby
- Offer healthy snacks such as fruit or vegetable sticks and try to avoid salty snacks like crisps or biscuits.
- Make snacks yourself so you know exactly what is in them.
- Don’t add salt to your baby’s meals. Try to add flavour through herbs and spices.
- Swap your sandwich fillers, try tuna and chicken instead of ham and cheese.
- Check food labels- many things like cereals and bread have surprisingly high levels of salt.
- Try making your own pasta sauces. Shop bought sauces can be high in processed salts.
- Avoid giving your baby processed foods not designed for babies as these are very likely to be high in salt. Weaning products for babies will not contain high levels of salt, so specific baby products are a much better option for your little one.
Home made hummus: a great alternative to shop bought hummus which are often high in salt. This carrot hummus is from a Tickle Buds weaning recipe box. (Photo by Melissa Collins, copyright Tickle Buds 2017)
How to add flavour without adding salt to homemade baby food
Spicing up fruit purees– Cinnamon can be a great addition to apple purees. Mint often works well with fruit as do small amounts of nutmeg, vanilla and ginger.
New flavour combos for vegetables– Basil is a great herb for adding to sweet potatoes. Add garlic to green beans, nutmeg to butternut squash, cinnamon to carrots, turmeric to root veggies. Creamed spinach works well with nutmeg too.There are loads of yummy combinations to try!
Less salt = healthier weaning
By looking at labels, home cooking with fresh ingredients and by avoiding adding salt to your baby’s food you can ensure that your little one doesn’t consume high levels of salt. And you can have lots of fun coming up with healthier and more adventurous combinations of flavours and tastes. There is so much out there you can use instead of salt, it’s just a case of experimenting!