We are told to avoid salt in under 1's as their kidneys cant cope with it, but what is actually the case is that we all - including babies - need a little bit of salt to survive. What kidneys can’t cope with is too much salt.
Babies only need a tiny amount of salt, in fact it’s less than 1g per day until they turn one and only 2g per day thereafter. For the first 6 months they will meet their needs through breastmilk or formula.
Once weaning starts and milk feeds reduce, your baby will get the additional salt he needs from food, but this is where it tends to go a bit haywire and they consume way too much. We know that by the age of 1 the vast majority of babies are consuming far too much salt and we know that baby-led-weaners get there sooner.
The staple foods of weaning such as bread, crackers, breadsticks and cheese are actually very high in salt, as is processed meat such as ham and sausages. Breakfast cereals too can be a huge contributor to salt in your little ones diet.
It’s important not to add salt to anything you cook from scratch, even if you think it tastes bland - taste is very different experience for your baby than it is for you. You should also avoid soy sauce, standard stock cubes, gravy and packet, tinned or jar sauces marketed for family meals, as they tend to be loaded with salt.
So what should you do?
Cook from scratch when you can and use herbs and spices as flavour enhancers. Baby stock cubes are very handy as they are much lower in salt and if you want to go the whole hog you can make ‘bone broth’ from a chicken carcass and vegetables boiled in water.
Shop bought baby foods, such as baby cereals, finger foods and pouches have a low salt content as its against the law to add salt to baby food during processing. Toddler and children’s meals however can have salt added so don’t get them mixed up! These however are often low in nutritional value - pouches are often pumped with water to bulk them out and they often have a very low meat content so won’t meet your babies requirements for the critical nutrients.
Bread and crackers are high in salt - it’s added as part of the baking process and bread wouldn’t rise properly without it. Therefore its wise to limit bread to once of twice a week. Pasta and rice are very low in salt and these make excellent alternative starchy carbohydrate options.
Cheese is the other very highly salted and popular food for babies. Its also high in calcium, protein and a great energy booster and so this is one food I would recommend you still allow your baby to have but try to offer in moderation.
Low salt foods are:
Fruits and vegetables - fresh, frozen or tinned are fine but avoid those canned in syrup or brine
Fish - not battered or breadcrumbed or canned in brine
Lentils, beans and pulses
Milk, cream, yoghurt
Very salty foods that are best avoided are:
toddler, child & adult ready-meals
pies, pasties, scotch eggs and sausage rolls
Breaded or battered chicken and fish
Sausages and other cured meats
Crackers including breadsticks
Soups - including fresh soups
Packet, dinner or jar sauces
Pizza and filled pasta
When looking at the nutritional information labels on foods look for the amount of salt per 100g. A low salt food contains less than 0.3g per 100g. Salt is sometimes also expressed as sodium. To find out the amount of salt in a food you need to multiply the sodium value by 2.5 so if a packet of crisps contains 1g sodium, it contains 2.5g salt.
Experience and exposure:
Weaning however, is a time when your baby should experience a wide variety of tastes and textures, its a learning adventure and so its important for her to be exposed to as many different tastes as possible. Therefore the occasional taste of something salty such as a chopped olive or piece of anchovy won’t do her and long term harm and yet will allow her the experience of learning about a new food.
If you’ve found this post useful and want to know more about your baby’s nutrition and growth during their first year of life, you can become a founding member of my online weaning course. This is limited to just 20 people and is heavily discounted in exchange for your feedback. It’s a beta test group to make sure it includes everything parents want and need to know. To find out more or sign up click here.