This blog looks at salt for babies, how much they need, practical tips to keep salt intakes low and how to read food labels. And why it’s OK to include some foods with added salt!
Why is too much salt bad for babies?
Salt contains sodium, and when babies have too much, their kidneys can’t cope. Another problem with giving babies salty food is that they get used to it. When they’re older, they may prefer saltier foods, which may mean more processed foods.
Evidence also suggests that early salt intake may have long-term effects on your baby’s blood pressure, even if they reduce their salt intake later on.
Where do babies get salt from?
Babies get some salt from their milk (breast or formula milk) and the rest from the foods they eat when they start solids at about six months.
Baby-led weaning can mean higher salt intakes.
Surveys show that we all eat more salt than we should. And this includes among babies during weaning. Some studies have shown that salt intakes are even higher in babies following a Baby-Led Weaning approach because parents may offer unsuitable family foods.
What’s the maximum amount of salt my baby (toddler) should eat?
Babies up to 6 months: Less than 1g salt per day (they’ll get this in their milk).
7-12 months: 1g salt per day (they’ll get about 0.5g from their milk and the other 0.5g from the foods they eat).
1-3 years: 2g salt per day
4-6 years: 3g salt per day
7-10 years: 5g salt per day
Children over 11 years and adults: 6g salt per day
Foods high in salt you need to avoid during weaning (and suitable alternatives)
Added salt in cooking
Don’t add any salt to your meals until AFTER you’ve taken out your baby’s portion (or portions if you’re freezing some). Then season for the rest of the family. Don’t feel that your baby is missing out!. They don’t know any different and aren’t used to the taste of seasoned food.
There’s no problem using fresh, dried or frozen herbs and spices in your baby’s meals. Just make sure to take it easy with hot spices like chilli powder.
Swap regular stock for low salt stock (or baby stock)
Regular stock cubes, stock pots and bouillon powder are incredibly high in salt. But there are simple alternatives. Swap regular stock cubes for low salt stock cubes suitable for babies like Piccolo, Knorr zero salt or Kallo very low salt. You can get vegetable, chicken and beef flavours. You might find them tasteless and, if so, add some salt for everyone except your baby.
Another option is to use water instead of stock, and once you’ve taken out your baby’s portion, add a few spoons of Bouillon powder or a jelly stockpot.
Hold the salty ingredients.
Some recipes use ingredients like soya sauce, fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce to add flavour. Leave them out until you’ve taken out your baby’s share.
Choose unsalted and unprocessed meat, fish and other protein foods.
This includes ham (yes, even home-cooked ham!), rashers, sausages, chorizo and shop-bought processed products like nuggets and burgers, whether meat or plant-based. Smoked fish is also high in salt and so avoid that too.
Instead, choose plain meat, chicken, beans, lentils, tofu or fish and cook these yourself without salt.
Don’t introduce salty snacks for babies
You don’t need to read the food label to know that crisps and many types of crackers like Tuc crackers are high in salt. Your baby doesn’t need snacks. And certainly doesn’t need to fill up on these salty foods, so don’t introduce them.
READ MORE: Food for your 7-month-old: Feeding Schedule
Hold the butter
Butter is lovely BECAUSE it’s so salty. Either choose oil for cooking and baking (rapeseed oil is a flavourless oil that’s perfect for pancakes and muffins) or use unsalted butter or lower salt spreads.
Don’t use gravy to wet your baby’s food.
Have you ever seen a ‘baby bowl’ on a restaurant menu? For those of you that haven’t, they’re usually an enormous bowl of mushed up potatoes and vegetables mixed with soup or gravy. And neither soup nor gravy is suitable for babies. Unless it’s homemade gravy or soup using zero salt stock.
Instead of using gravy or soup to moisten your baby’s food try milk, yoghurt or some of the cooking water. Or else make and freeze your own low salt soup or gravy (if you do this fair play, I never did!).
Swap shop-bought sauces for simple homemade versions
Jars of sauce can be high in salt. But you can quickly transform chopped tinned tomatoes, unflavoured passata (because sometimes the flavoured versions contain more salt) and tomato purée into sauces for pasta, pizza, stews and casseroles.
Here are some basic sauce recipes you can make at home:
Tomato sauce (leave out the sugar)
White sauce (use unsalted butter)
Choose low salt breakfast cereals suitable for babies
Many breakfast cereals contain quite a bit of hidden salt. The good news is that every day cereals like porridge, Ready Brek and Weetabix and their own brand alternatives are very low in salt and perfect for your baby’s breakfast.
How to know if a packaged food is too high in salt for your baby?
While it’s easy to stay in control of the food you make at home, a lot of salt comes from hidden sources. It’s important to understand how to read food labels and identify whether foods are high or low in salt.
EU legislation ensures that the salt content of foods marketed at babies is kept at low levels. But if you’re choosing regular packaged foods, it’s essential to make sure that your baby’s salt content is safe.
Here’s what you’re looking for on the label:
A quick guide to comparing whether foods are high or low salt is to see how many grams of salt the product contains per 100 grams.
- HIGH = over 1.5 grams
- MEDIUM = 0.3 grams to 1.5 grams
- GREEN/LOW = 0.3 grams and under
Sometimes labels state the amount of sodium instead of salt. To calculate the amount of salt, multiply the sodium figure by 2.5. For example, if a food has 1 gram of sodium per 100g, it has 2.5 grams of salt!
LEARN MORE >>> How to guide on meal planning for the family
Choose brands with the least amount of salt
The salt content of the same product varies hugely from brand to brand. And parents ask me ALL the time for brand recommendations. But because manufacturers change their ingredients, it’s best to compare these yourself where YOU shop. Then choose the brand with the least amount of salt for the food you want to buy.
Here are a few examples to show you HOW much the salt content varies between brands for the same food: (salt intake per 100g).
|Curry Powder||12.3g||8.2g||14.2g ***|
**The Happy Pear
*** Schwartz (most curry powders contain added salt but consider how much you’re using in the context of the overall dish, it’s usually only a minimal amount, for example a tablespoon of Aldi curry powder contains x, and this will serve four adults!).
You can see that it’s not always safe to assume that the more expensive branded products are the lowest in salt. However, these are only a few examples, and there might be others where the branded product is lower in salt. It’s worth checking yourself!
Here are some common foods that parents worry about the salt content of:
Some foods like cheese, tinned fish and bread, we consider nutritious foods to include even though they are relatively high in salt because they offer nutrients like calcium (cheese), omega three oils (fish) and B vitamins (bread). And because they’re everyday family foods.
Is cheese OK for babies?
Cheese contains added salt but exactly how much depends on the type. Cheeses that contain lower amounts of salt include Emmental, cream cheese and mozzarella (0.5 g per 100g), cheddar and parmesan contain more (1.8g per 100g) and Feta and Halloumi are the saltiest (3g per 100g).
You can offer your baby any kind of cheese but aim to choose lower in salt styles more often. And there’s no need to offer cheese every day. Make sure to leave space in your baby’s diet for a variety of foods.
Choosing bread for your baby
ALL bread contains salt. Although if you’re making your own bread, you can leave it out. But realistically, most parents don’t have the time, skill or inclination to make bread! And that’s fine.
Most shop-bought bread contains about 1g salt per 100g. Some have a little more and some a little less. Some ‘healthy seeded bread’ may contain considerably less. However, these ‘healthy’ bread aren’t always suitable for babies because they have big seeds that are a choking hazard. But if you can find bread with low salt content and small seeds like chia, then go for it!
It’s also worth noting that some Artisan bread contains considerably more salt. It’s why it tastes so nice!
So, bread is fine but choose the one on the shelf with the least amount of salt. And don’t be overly reliant on bread at mealtimes. Vary your baby’s diet between bread, pasta, potatoes, homemade pancakes, muffins, rice and suitable cereals.
What about tinned fish?
Tinned oily fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel is a super handy store cupboard ingredient for quick and easy meals for your baby. And it’s OK to offer once or twice a week.
In one famous brand of sardines I checked (John West!), each tin contained 1g salt per 100g regardless of whether it was tinned in oil, brine or tomato sauce.
When baby is over one, do you need to be as careful with salt?
This is something that parents ask me ALL the time.
Toddlers can safety eat more salt than babies, but it’s still important to limit salt and salty foods (FSAI 2020). So, it makes sense to follow most of the guidelines as you would for babies under one. But generally, it’s OK to make your family meals using regular stock and to use ingredients like soya sauce etc. Also, occasionally using some commercially available sauces is fine.
The bottom line on salt for babies!
Offer a variety of mostly fresh home-cooked foods with no added salt. The occasional shop-bought product is fine as long as it is not a ‘high salt’ food. And aim to offer a variety of food to your baby and don’t be overly reliant on higher salt options like cheese and bread.
Learn more about simple, efficient and healthy ways to feed your baby by enrolling in Ready, Steady, Wean.