The question about salt comes up very frequently from parents I talk to, in particular if babies are above 1 year of age. Before 1 year, everybody has accepted that a “no salt policy” is a good one for baby food, but somehow there is this thinking that something magical happens at the age of one and suddenly salt intake can be totally liberalised. Of course kidneys mature with age and the amount of salt tolerated increases, but the idea behind the guidelines for reducing salt intake is also to raise a new generation of adults that are not as salt dependent as many of us are and therefore become healthier adults.
It is well known in adults that excessive salt intake affects blood pressure, but new research has shown that high salt intake in children may predispose children to high blood pressure, osteoporosis, respiratory illness (i.e. asthma), stomach cancer and obesity. So how much can your child have? The following are recommended intakes for the UK, but other EU countries have similar guidelines.
0-6 month: < 1 g per day
6-12 months: 1 g/day
1-3 years: 2 g/day
4-6 years: 3 g/day
7-10 year: 5 g/day
11 years and above: 6 g/day (adult requirements)
Simple tips for reducing salt in your toddler’s diet:
- Do not add salt to food – you can use herbs, spices and garlic/onion to make the food really yummy
- Be careful of adult type crisp/salty crackers
- Be careful of sauces/stock – you can find baby stock that does not have salt added and even better make your own
- Smoked salmon, ham, cheese, bacon and many sausages contain a lot of salt, so best to keep the intake limited of these foods
- You can also find a lot of salt in bread, snack and even breakfast cereals – food companies in the UK have really improved, but its important to be aware of hidden sources
How to read labels?
Firstly you need to know how to convert salt to sodium and visa versa, as many of the labels use sodium rather than salt.
Salt = sodium x 2.5 – so if something contains 2.4g of sodium, it means it contains 6 g of salt. Be careful as often sodium is put in mg, so 2400 mg of sodium = 6 g of salt. Let me give you some further examples: if a product per 100 g contains 300 mg of sodium, this is 0.3g sodium x 2.5 = 0.75g of salt or if the product contains 0.2 g of sodium = 0.5g of salt. Hope this makes sense.
Many products now use a traffic light system to indicate salt content and are provided per 100g portion of the specific food.
- High is more than 1.5g salt (0.6g sodium) per 100g. These foods may be colour-coded red.
- Medium is between 0.3 (0.1 sodium) and 1.5 g (0.6 g sodium) salt per 100g. These foods may be colour-coded in amber
- Low is 0.3g salt (0.1g sodium) or less per 100g. These foods may be colour-coded green.
You will see that the UK has published 2017 salt reduction targets for foods like ham, bread and other general products, which should help all of us in the future. You can read them here.