Whenever I eat at my parents’ or at the in-laws’, I always think the food has too much salt. And what’s worrying is that I’m the only one! Everyone keeps telling me I have a problem with my taste buds! You know what? I found out that I DID! It was my taste buds because I wasn’t used to eating that much salt in food. It’s all relative: my parents and in laws find the salt level ‘normal’ but for me it is not. It’s all a question of being used to salt. That’s why I am so amazed when mums tell me they add salt to their babies’ food when they start on solids, as early as 5 to 6 months old! They argue they want to make sure the baby likes the food by making it more tasty. What they do not know, unfortunately, is that babies do not need additional salt and they are the ones who are getting them used to that taste!
The Health Foundation in Australia recommends that an adult consumes less than 6 grams of salt a day, that’s about 1 teaspoon. And we are talking here not only about salt that we add to food when cooking but also to hidden salt in all the foods that we eat. The Health Foundation aims at reducing premature death and suffering from heart, stroke, and blood vessel disease in Australia. It warns about the high intake of salt which can increase blood pressure and lead to a high risk of many other diseases. It is alarming to know that the average Australian consumes about 9 grams of salt everyday. I don’t always check the labels of food products that I buy but I always try to buy healthy food and avoid processed food and take aways as these are so high in salt.
There is now evidence that a high intake of salt in children also influences their blood pressure and can lead them to develop many diseases later in life such as high blood pressure, osteoporosis and even obesity. How children eat when they are young heavily influences their food choices and likings in later life. If they have been used to eating salty food, this is what they will like later in life. It is better for them not to be encouraged to develop a preference for salt when they are little in order to avoid exposing them to all the health risks related to high salt intake. Children should rather be encouraged to eat healthy snacks such as fresh fruits, dried fruits, fresh vegetable sticks and yoghurt. Their food should be cooked without salt if possible. There is already natural salt in vegetables and the taste of other foods such as meat, chicken, etc. can be enhanced by adding spices and herbs. I have tried it and it does work. It is all a question of getting used to eating less salt or no salt at all. If you do it gradually then very soon you will find it hard to eat out or to buy take away!
According to the Health Foundation and other health institutions this is how much salt children can eat per day in order to stay healthy and to avoid risks linked to over-consumption of salt.
|Age||Maximum Salt Intake|
|0-6 months||<1g / day|
|6-12 months||1g / day|
|1-3 years||2g / day|
|4-6 years||3g / day|
|7-10 years||5g / day|
|11 years and above||6g / day|
Babies’ kidneys are too immature to deal with added salt and anyway, they require very tiny amount daily. Both breast milk and baby formula consist of that required amount of salt and do not need any added salt to their food. When babies start on solids, although their food may taste very bland to us (remember it’s all a question of being used to salt), salt must not be added. As far as possible it is best to feed baby home made food and avoid processed food as even sauces and other stocks contain too much added salt. 75% of our salt intake come from the ready-made and processed foods. It is always important to check the nutritional information on food products that you plan to give your children and choose those with low salt content. Be mindful of products such as bread, baked beans, crisps, olives, cheese and even biscuits which already contain salt. When choosing breakfast cereals, make sure you are choosing one which has a low salt level. I used the recommendations of Choice Magazine for my baby. It compares various products and lists their salt and sugar levels.
When eating out, be mindful what you are feeding your child. A large portion of chips can contain over 1g of salt and 4 slices of bread can provide 2g of salt; so in only one meal your child can eat much more salt that he is required to eat over a few days!You can use the following as a guide: food containing more than 0.6g of sodium per 100g is considered as high in salt.
Making sure your child doesn’t eat too much salt means you’re also trying to ensure that he doesn’t develop a taste for salty food; this will makes him less likely to eat too much salt as an adult. As mentioned earlier, if you are already giving your child too much salt, just decrease it gradually. It would be a good idea to do it for the family as a whole at the same time. The whole family will benefit from it. It makes so much sense that salt is often referred to as the slow poison and we definitely don’t want that for us nor for our kids, do we?