The latest question for our Ask the Expert panel comes from a worried mum whose 8 month-old daughter accidentally ate salt. She wants to know when children can start having salt added to their diets and is even a little bit of salt dangerous? Paediatric dietician Jo Rayner has this advice.
My daughter, who is eight months old, had some homemade shepherd’s pie while we were visiting my parents last week. I only realised afterwards that my mum had added salt to the recipe – she always does, I just didn’t think. My mother says it was only a teaspoon for the whole dish – would this be safe for an 8 month-old or could this have been dangerous? She seems okay but I am now paranoid about any time we go for dinner at my parents or parents-in law.
Jo Rayner Says:
Salt is needed for our body. It regulates fluid levels, and it prevents low blood pressure. However, too much salt/sodium intake has been linked to health problems, such as osteoporosis, kidney disease, and high blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular disease and stroke.
The current advice about the amount of salt babies and children need in their diet is available on the NHS Choices website. It states the following amounts as a maximum:
• up to 12 months – less than 1g of salt a day (less than 0.4g sodium)
• 1 to 3 years – 2g of salt a day (0.8g sodium)
• 4 to 6 years – 3g of salt a day (1.2g sodium)
• 7 to 10 years – 5g of salt a day (2g sodium)
• 11 years and over – 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium)
Breast milk supplies all the nutrients an infant under 6 months needs (and infant formulas have similar amounts), so it is the ideal exclusive food for this age group.
Over 6 months, salt should not be added to food as the kidneys of infants are not mature enough to cope with it. As a one off meal on this occasion it will not have caused any harm, it is what a baby and family eats regularly that has the greatest impact. Excess salt intake is associated with vomiting , diarrhoea and thirst. Next time maybe try a small portion of the shepherds pie with some additional vegetables and fruit for dessert or ask for the cooked mince and potatoes to be served for your baby before seasoning, if that’s possible.
There are lots of foods made specifically for babies, often these have less salt in them. Salt is added to lots of foods such as bread, biscuits and cakes and most ready meals. It is important to check the labels of foods to know what your baby is eating.
You can reduce salt in your child’s diet by avoiding salty snacks like crisps and biscuits and swapping them for low-salt alternatives such as dried fruit, raw vegetable sticks and chopped fruit.
The British Heart Foundation have some great tips on reducing salt in our diets and a free booklet on their website.
Jo Rayner is a highly-experienced registered Paediatric Dietitian and Consultant Nutritionist. She is a member of the British Dietetic Association and her practice is regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council.
Jo helps children and families achieve optimal health through practical, individual advice based on research, evidence and experience and believes good nutrition can be achieved by working together regardless of any medical condition, allergy or lifestyle preference.
Read more about Jo
Visit Jo’s website Kidsdiet.co.uk