Salt for babies under 1 & easy ways to swap the salt

By Penelope Henderson, MSc, RNutr/ 07/10/2024
salt being poured from a salt shaker

 If you are confused about the role of salt in your baby’s diet, then I will uncover why it is important that salt for babies under 1 year should not be added to foods, and how to make easy swaps for salty foods. 

In this blog, we will also uncover the hidden sources of salt in processed foods and provide you with simple alternatives to ensure your little one is getting a healthy diet.

What is salt?

The chemical name of salt is sodium chloride. It can also be referred to as sodium and this is the part of salt that is more harmful to babies. So why is this and what does salt actually do for our bodies?

What is the role of salt in a baby’s diet?

Believe it or not, salt or sodium is essential for the proper function of the body. It’s role includes, 

absorbing and transporting nutrients, transmit nerve signals, maintaining blood pressure and fluid balance (1) 

HOWEVER, in the modern diet it is added everywhere for various reasons and having too much of it is harmful for not just babies but everyone. 

Are pink himalayan salt and sea salt healthier for babies? 

These salts are still made up of sodium chloride with some other natural minerals, no healthier than table salt and must be avoided. 

When can babies have salt?

a bottle of breast milk and some formula in a measuring spoon as sources of salt

Babies actually get very small amounts from breast milk or formula during the first 6 months. Once they start solid food they will get some naturally in some foods. This amount is sufficient to meet their needs and we don’t need to be adding any more or giving them foods that are more processed and contain salt. 

You will also need to be aware of the many foods that contain added salt that you may not have even considered to contain salt and these are discussed later on. 

If you are new to weaning and not sure where to start you may like to check out: What is stage 1 weaning and what does this look like week by week?

How much salt should a baby have (under 1 year)?

  • Babies up to 6 months – Less than 1 gram a day

They will get this amount from the milk feeds, either breast or bottle fed.

  • Salt intake for babies 7 – 12 months – Less than 1 gram a day

As milk feeds reduce they will get about 0.5g from milk and as weaning begins 0.5g from natural occurring sources of food. 

  • 1 – 3 years – 2 grams a day
  • 4 – 6 years – 3 grams a day
  • 7 – 10 years – 5 grams a day
  • 11 + – adults – 6 grams a day

Why can’t babies have too much salt under 1

Impact on kidney development 

Babies under 1 are still developing their kidneys so they are too immature to deal with large amounts of salt. 

Increased risk of high blood pressure later in life 

There is strong evidence that too much salt increases the risk of high blood pressure as you get older. This then also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke (2)

In addition, as we get accustomed to having salt in the diet, it becomes harder to reduce it. 

Sources of hidden salt in food 

These days salt is in everything and it can be so hard to navigate what to feed your baby. Steer away from commercially prepared baby foods as they can have added salt and sugar. Although they are handy from time to time. Homemade baby food or food made from scratch will give you more control and you can see exactly what goes in it. 

There are a surprising number of foods that have hidden salt and they are perhaps foods you would typically consume everyday or in larger amounts, such as shop bought bread, certain cheeses, pasta sauces, breakfast cereals and crackers. Avoid the ones with salt the best you can. 

hidden sources of salt for babies infographic including bread, cheese, breakfast cereal and pasta sauces

Foods to avoid giving to babies and young children

Generally shop bought items such as these will contain added salt and best avoided: This list is not exhaustive. Please check the label if you are not sure. 

  • Breakfast cereals with added salt
  • Bread, flatbreads etc
  • Ready meals for toddlers, children and adults
  • Pies and pastries such as sausage rolls
  • Battered or breaded chicken or fish fingers
  • Ready made pizza bases or pizza
  • Filled pasta such as tortellini, or ravioli
  • Snacks such as crisps, popcorn, crackers, breadsticks
  • Cured meats such as ham, salami, sausages, bacon
  • Smoked foods such as smoked salmon
  • Dried or fresh sauces
  • Gravy
  • Condiments like soy sauce, mayonnaise and ketchup
  • Olives and other preserved goods like pickles
  • Parmesan and other hard cheeses
  • Bought soups
  • Biscuits
  • Cake

How to manage salt intake for babies under 1

  • Opt for the naturally low salt foods such as below and don’t add extra salt in the cooking process or at the table. Your babies salt intake should be sufficient from such foods. 

Low salt foods:

a range of low salt foods on a work bench including fish, fruits and vegetables
  • Fruits and vegetables including tinned, fresh and frozen. However, avoid the tinned ones in brine or syrup. 
  • Plain pasta
  • Rice
  • Couscous
  • Oats
  • Eggs
  • Plain meat like chicken, lamb or pork
  • Pulses such as lentils and chickpeas
  • Tofu
  • Seeds like chia, linseeds
  • Plain full fat yoghurt
  • Cheeses (cottage cheese)
  • Bread (low salt)
  • Fish (salmon, tuna) not in brine or breaded
  • Potatoes
  • Unsalted butter
  • Take a portion out before adding seasoning – If you are cooking family meals then you can always take a portion out for your baby before adding any seasoning. 

Choosing low-salt or no-salt added options 

Choosing low salt or no salt is not always easy when so many everyday foods contain salt and these amounts can easily add up. So here are some easy ways to swap the salt:

  • Swap regular stock for low stock cubes that use other flavours instead of salt or simply opt for boiling water. 
  • Don’t introduce salty snacks to babies, opt for fruits and vegetables or mini meals instead.
  • Choose breakfast cereals with no or low added salt for babies. Ready oats and shredded wheat are good options. 
  • Choose low salt breads for your baby. Some shop bought breads contain low sodium. Opt for these or even better still make your own and use herbs for flavour. 
  • Avoid using soy sauce, fish sauce or worcestershire sauce for babies. Don’t use at all or substitute with some mild spices like turmeric or paprika to give flavour.
  • Avoid salted butter and use unsalted instead or opt for healthy oils like olive oil and rapeseed oil.
  • Swap bought gravy for homemade without salt or moisten foods with some plain yoghurt or extra water. 
  • Swap the shop bought sauces for homemade versions such as tomato sauce without the sugar or salt, white sauce with unsalted butter. 

Does cheese have too much salt for babies?

Some cheeses are higher in salt than others. Hard cheeses like parmesan are high in salt,  so is feta and halloumi, so should be avoided. 

The best cheeses for babies from 6 months are pasteurised ones with little or no salt like mild cheddar, cottage cheese or cream cheese. 

Babies and young children should avoid mould ripened soft cheeses like brie, camembert or ripened goats milk cheese and blue veined cheese. This is because these carry a higher risk of carrying a bacteria called listeria which can make babies very ill. 

Reading labels and monitoring sodium content 

traffic light labelling including energy, fat, saturates, sugars and salt

The labelling of salt can be confusing as it can be labelled as just sodium. Sodium will appear as a lesser amount as this makes up part of salt. So you need to times the sodium by 2.5 to get the amount of salt. 

When reading labels and seeing what is high, medium and low in salt. You can determine this from this guideline:

High = over 1.5 grams salt per 100g

Medium = 0.3 – 1.5 grams of salt per 100g

Low = 0.3g salt and under

For more information on low salt shopping, check out this handy low salt shopping guide from Action on Salt. 

References

  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/sodium-chloride
  2. https://www.actiononsalt.org.uk/salthealth/pressure/

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MEET THE AUTHOR
Author Penelope Henderson

Hi I’m Penelope Henderson RNutr Registered Nutritionist specialising in children’s nutrition and responsive feeding therapy.

I am a mum of 2, with over 15 years of experience in nutrition. I support parents to feel confident in how and what to feed their child. I hope you find my recipes and nutrition posts useful, so you can enjoy stress free cooking and mealtimes.

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