Salt is a mineral that is made from sodium and chloride and is commonly referred to as sodium chloride or NaCl. It is the excess sodium, Na, that gives rise to health concerns, and in this blog, the words salt, sodium or sodium chloride refer to sodium in our diet.
Babies are particularly sensitive to salt, their kidneys are not mature enough to cope with too much. Whilst the addition of salt to a babies food, could, in excess, cause more immediate harm, the most likely risk is that habitual salt intakes becomes a life long habit, with continued use leading to greater disease risk in later life*.
Babies under 6 months of age are able to obtain everything they need from breast milk or infant formula and the small amount of sodium chloride, required for health is found in breast and formula milks in the appropriate amounts.
Once you start giving your baby other foods, you need to be ‘salt aware’.
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (1) advise that 65 – 70% of the sodium in our diet comes from manufactured foods, with 15 – 20% occurring naturally in plant or meat based foods. 40% of our sodium intake comes from bread, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cakes and pastries. Processed meats and obviously table salt being other big contributors.
So it is worth bearing in mind that any foods will have more salt in than foods you make from ‘scratch’. It should be noted that commercial baby foods do not contain added salt.
So up to how much salt could babies and children have each day?
The Food Standards Agency recommends:
0-12months less than 1gm salt/day (0.4gms sodium)
1 – 3 years 2gms salt/day (0.8gms sodium)
4 – 6 years 3gms salt/day (1.2gms sodium)
7 – 10years 5gms salt/day (2gms sodium)
11+ years 6gms salt/day (2.4gms sodium)
Nutritional Information on Foods
When you buy foods check for nutritional information and note that salt may be shown as ‘salt’ or as ‘sodium’. Sodium values are less than salt values but don’t let that confuse you, or let you think that the salt content is lower than it really is – multiply the sodium value by 2.5 to get the salt equivalent.
Another point is to check how much of the product the salt/sodium value is for – is it for the whole pack? Or per 100gms. The Food Standards Agency says that less than 0.3g of Salt/100gms is ‘low salt’ and more than 1.5gms of salt/100gms is high salt. Also remember that products portions sizes, suggested servings and packet sizes are likely to be aimed at an adult.
So for your babies and children:
• Do not add salt to foods when you are cooking.
• Manufactured foods often have high levels of added salt (but this does not include baby foods).
• Biscuits, cakes, pastries and bread are a significant source of salt in UK homes.
• If you have older children beware of crisps and pizzas.
• If you use canned vegetables, check added salt/sodium content and rinse before use.
• Home cooking means you know what is in your food.
All of the above applies to adults too, it is a matter or healthy eating for the family, and breaking any bad habits you may have got yourself into.
*Excess salt intake is particularly associated with strokes and high blood pressure (hypertension), (2,3,4). Hypertension is a significant contributor to the risk of premature death in the older age groups, not only through stroke, but through heart and kidney disease as well (5).
For more blogs on baby and child nutrition visit www.nurtureandnourish.co.uk
1 Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (2003) Salt and Health. TSO.
2 He, F., MacGregor, G. (2004) Effect of longer-term modest salt reduction on blood pressure (Review). Cochrane Database Systemic Review CD0004937
3 Sacks, F., Svetkey, L.,Vollmer, W.et al: for the DASH-Sodium Collaborative Research Group. (2001) Effects on Blood Pressure on Reduced Dietary Sodium and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet. The New England Journal of Medicine 344:1 3-10.
4 Stamler, J. (1997) The INTERSALT Study: background, methods, findings and implications. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 65(suppl) 626S-642S.
5. NHS (2009) Health Survey for England, Health and Lifestyles. The NHS Information Centre