Many people have been asking recently about salt intakes and babies’ health during weaning. This is a bit of a tricky topic as, although babies need very tiny amounts of salt and have very low maximum recommendations, salt is quite apparent in a wide range of everyday foods. Many of which we probably wouldn’t even consider to be “salty”. This means for those families wanting their babies to eat a varied diet, similar to that of adults, salt can be of some concern especially as 75% of the salt is already present in the food we’re eating. Here I am discussing how much salt should a baby have.
Salt in baby’s foods
Salt (or sodium) naturally occurs in foods such as fruit and vegetables, eggs and dairy products. It’s also added to a wide variety of everyday foods.
Some foods are generally very high in salt and these include foods such as:
Processed meats, olives, cheese, sauces such as ketchup and mayonnaise, stock cubes and gravy, marmite and butter, smoked meat and fish.
Some of these foods are still fine to offer to baby, as they offer new tastes and flavours and they also are fairly nutrient-rich. I do offer Raffy and Ada olives and marmite on occasion as well as cheese fairly regularly. However, how often they are offered and the quantity in which they are offered is what really matters when it comes to these foods.
Other foods that can be variable but do usually contain moderate amounts of salt include:
With these types of foods, I tend to try and make my own at home, whenever possible and avoid adding any salt when doing so. For example it’s actually really easy and cheap to make hummus and it lasts longer than shop bought options. Homemade soup and pasta sauces are also so quick and simple to make at home and if you’re using herbs and spices, they don’t actually need any added salt.
How Much Salt Can Babies Have?
The table below, taken from the British Nutrition Foundation shows the maximum salt levels for different age groups.
Basically, children under 1 should be having no more than 1g of salt a day. That’s less than ¼ of a teaspoon and so really not a large amount. The photo below also shows different amounts of salt.
Avoid adding salt to baby’s food
The reason salt is only recommended in very small amounts is because babies kidneys are too small and not developed enough to cope with large volumes. Salt can also increase blood pressure, even in young children, and importantly too much salt could encourage a taste and preference for salty foods throughout life (NHS, C4L).
This is why it’s really important not to add any salt to baby’s food and why it’s best not to offer many foods that are high in salt before 1 year of age.
A chunk of cheese with a spreading of butter along with a boiled egg and a slice of bread could easily amount to 1g of salt.
This is also why variety is so key for young babies, it’s not really a problem if babies go over their salt allowance on some days, as long as on other days it’s lower and it all balances out.
Top tips to keeping salt intake low during weaning
Ultimately there are plenty of ways to keep salt intakes down when offering foods to baby. Here are some of my top tips:
- Avoid adding salt to baby/infant/toddler/children’s foods completely, if possible. Salt isn’t necessary to add to foods and meals as it’s already present in such a wide variety of every day foods. Offering it too early could lead to children developing a bit of a taste for it and therefore needing to use lots of salt for seasoning as they get older.
- Use herbs and spices to flavour foods. These often add beneficial nutritional properties to babies’ foods, but they also help to introduce baby to a wide array of different tastes and flavours too. Don’t under estimate the flavour that quality olive oils, lemon juices and garlic and ginger can add to foods too.
- Check labels and compare between products to try to find the lowest levels of salt in foods such as crackers, breadsticks and rice cakes as well as breakfast cereals and breads. check salt levels on products and ideally aim for <0.3g salt/ 100g when offering foods for babies. These foods are considered “low salt”. Don’t worry if your baby has foods that have higher levels of salt on occasion, but just try to look for lower salt options
- Make food at home whenever possible, so you know exactly what’s going into the final dish, and so you can experiment yourself with different herbs and spices.
- Choose “no added salt” or lower salt options for food items such as sauces, gravies, crackers, butter and stock cubes, if using.
- Try to balance out higher salt meals or snacks throughout the day with lower salt options such as fruits and veggies, beans and homemade sauces and meals.
- Try out some of your favourite recipes without using the salt – you might be surprised at how little the taste changes.
- Think about the salt you use in your own foods and if it might help for the whole family to use less salt at the table.
- When buying tinned foods, check for salt content as sometimes beans, veggies and fish are stored in salted water which may not be suitable for baby. Opt for ones tinned in water whenever possible
- When eating out don’t be afraid to ask if salt is added to any foods you’re thinking of getting for young children. Ask if the salt could be avoided or if there are any lower salt dishes that are appropriate for children.
Remember that if they have a little more on some days and a little less on others, this is OK. It’s all about overall balance. Try not to panic day to day and just do what you can to keep overall intakes low. The tips above should help, but also try to avoid offering too much in the way of crisps and cakes and biscuits to older children…these often contain a fair amount of salt, and it’s very hard to tell exactly how much.
If children are having these regularly, it could bring your little one’s average salt intake fairly high. For example, a medium packet of crisps contains around 0.6g salt – so it’s important to be a little savvy with those food labels
Here are some of my no added salt baby led weaning recipes and salt free recipes I created for Knorr, all perfect for babies and toddlers. For lots more low salt recipes take a look at my book How To Wean Your Baby.