There's lots of reasons we use salt in cooking or add it to our foods. It acts as a seasoning, increases flavour, is a crucial part of cooking some foods and is used as a preservative for a lot of foods.
The general recommendation for little ones is to limit added salt in their diets (this is recommended for adult diets to FYI). In this article I will help you understand exactly why this recommendation is a little more important when it comes to our babies.
We all need a little salt in our diet. It has important roles inside our body and in our cells. Its necessary for keeping the volume of blood and fluid in our cells within appropriate limits. The kidneys do a lot of work in managing how much salt we keep, and what we get rid of through urine. For children under 12 months, their kidneys are still developing and too much salt puts them under pressure and they may not be able to process large amounts of salt.
Children under the age of 12 months do not need much salt at all so its recommended to not offer extra salt or highly processed foods frequently during this time. The recommended average daily amount is 400mg. The salt our little ones do need will be met easily just from consuming breastmilk / formula and a wide variety of healthy foods from the 5 food groups. Whilst we talk about 12 months here, it’s important to remember that our taste buds get accustomed to salty foods over time, so not adding salt, and choosing lower salt products is something that would ideally be continued for as long as possible into adulthood.
Foods that commonly include salt are biscuits, chips, pre-made sauces, breads and cereals, legumes canned in brine, baked beans, processed meats, cooking stocks, sauces and takeaway foods. Most foods that are turned into something else (processed) contain salt, and the more processed they are, the more salt they will likely have. I don't recommend counting or measuring sodium intake. We don't need to be that focused on minimising things but rather if we focus on offering a wide range of natural foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and lean meats and avoiding adding salt (both in cooking and directly to foods) and offering extremely salty foods or condiments like soy sauce we will generally be within the recommended ranges.
Now that you know why the recommendation is to limit the amount of salt you feed your little one, how do you put this into practice?
1. Don’t add salt to their food. This may mean taking out their portion from a meal you are cooking before you add salt.
2. Look for foods and products that say no added salt or reduced salt options. Marketing on foods can be confusing! Foods that say they are reduced salt may not actually have the lowest salt for that type of product. It’s most likely that it has lower salt compared to the company’s other product but it may not be lower than other brands regular option. So, check the label and compare via the 100g columns to get an accurate comparison.
3. Choose less processed foods as the hero ingredients of your little ones meals, including lean meats, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and dairy, and when including other foods have a look at the label.
How do you read a label?
When looking at whether a food is higher in salt (sodium), you can use the nutrition label as a guide. All foods in Australia and New Zealand have to include sodium on their Nutrition Information Panel. Locate the “Per 100g” column. The following are how we classify a food as being low, medium or high in salt (sodium):
· LOW <125mg/100g (best option for little ones to have frequently)
· MEDIUM <400mg/100g (ok sometimes)
· HIGH > 400mg/100g (would generally avoid)
Use the label reading cheat sheet below at the grocery store!