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Can babies & toddlers have salt and how much?

We usually know we shouldn't use salt in the food of our young children. But why is that? This article explains why and provides an insight on when you can start using some salt and how much is deemed safe.

Spoonful of salt

Our bodies need some salt to balance fluids in the blood and maintain a healthy blood balance. However, we should be careful not to consume salt in excess. Studies have shown that adults, on average, consume too much salt, which can lead to a range of health problems.

For babies under 1 year the consumption of salt can be damaging to the kidneys, which is why the advice of all health and food safety institutions is to not add any salt to food and refrain from serving processed foods containing lots of salt, such as cured meats, crisps or frozen store bought meals. Also, serving salty foods during those young years might help create a preference for salty foods later on in life. This is yet another reason why we want our children to eat flavoursome, but not necessarily salty food.

Don’t want your baby’s food to taste bland? Check out how to use herbs and spices to add extra flavor without using salt!

The best herbs and spices to give to babies

So when can you start using salt in your baby’s food?

In year one, avoid adding any salt. After your baby has turned one, a little bit of salt is ok but keep an eye on the big picture. If you like to add some salt to your cooking, just make sure you don’t serve any other foods that contain a lot of salt. Even though your baby’s body might become more capable of processing salt, we still recommend you keep salt intake as low as possible until your baby is about 6 years old. This is for the simple reason of not creating a preference for salty flavours early on in life.

We added a list of commonly eaten foods containing a lot of salt at the bottom of this article.

How much salt can you use for your baby’s age?

As a parent, you want to do things right. So adding “a bit” of salt might be too unclear for you. We understand, because it is. Above, we wrote that as of 1 year old, your child can have some salt. What does that mean in practice? For your information, we added a list of the maximum dosages of salt per age range. Since we really don’t want you to start weighing salt - we know you have better things to do - we’ll translate this into real life examples below.

List of salt dosages per age range according to the European Food Safety Authority:

Under 6 months: less than 1 gram per day
7 to 12 months: 1 gram per day
1 to 3 years: 3 grams per day
4 to 6 years: 4 grams per day
7 to 10 years: 5 grams per day
Older than 10 years: 6 grams per day

Okay, so we know how many grams of salt you’re allowed to have but let’s look at how that translates into real life. From 1 to 3 years old, we can have 3 grams of salt per day, which equals 21 grams of salt per week. A frozen pizza generally contains between 3 and 5 grams of salt. This already exceeds the daily recommendation for children up to 3 or even 6 years old.

To compare, if we season our home cooked meals, we generally use much less than what you’ll find in processed foods like the pizzas, deli meats or other store bought meals.

These are some of the foods containing the most salt:

- Soy sauce
- Fish sauce
- Bacon, salami and other processed or deli meat
- Frozen pizza
- Pre-made dishes like lasagna or macaroni
- Some cheeses like feta
- Pre-made soups
- Chips, pretzels or salty crackers
- Olives
- Certain shellfish
- Seaweed like kombu, wakame and kelp

The main takeaway is to refrain from using salt during the first year. Afterwards, try to avoid ultra processed salty foods, and then a pinch of salt in your home cooked meal won't hurt. Keep an eye on the bigger picture, on a balanced and varied diet consisting of fresh ingredients.

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