Salt is one of the most common nutrients that I’m asked about when speaking with parents about starting solid foods. It’s great to see so many parents want to start healthy eating habits from the first bite. But I can see the desire to give healthy food actually get in the way of creating healthy eating habits. Here’s the full story on salt. Yes, limiting salt when you’re introducing your baby to solid foods is a good idea. Notice that I use the word ‘limit’ and not ‘avoid’. But before I get into that, first let me explain why you want to limit salt. There’s two reasons:
- Babies’ kidneys can’t handle as much salt as an adults’ kidneys. When we eat more salt than our body needs, it’s our kidneys that work to flush the excess from our bodies. It’s rare but there have been cases where babies have gone into kidney failure because they’ve been fed a high salt diet.
- Creating a ‘salt-tooth’. Babies are born with an innate enjoyment of sweet things. The enjoyment of all other tastes – sour, bitter, spicy, and salty is created by repeated exposure. Feeding your baby lots of salty foods at a young age can shape a life-long preference for salty foods.
What to Do?
If you’re making food just for your baby don’t add salt.
If you’re buying purees or finger foods for your baby, choose foods with no salt added. Read the nutrition facts panel on the label and look for the option with the lowest sodium (sodium is the technical term for salt).
Do offer your baby family foods (even if they contain salt). This is where that distinction of “limit” versus “avoid” comes in. While it is healthy to limit salt in babies’ food, I sometimes see parents get so caught up in avoiding salt that their child gets to be 3 years old and they’re still being given a separate plate of food because the adult foods have too much salt. Why am I there to witness this scene? Because the parents have hired me to help then get their child to eat – the child is now a picky eater and refusing to eat meals.
A better solution is to offer your baby family foods (even if there is salt in them). A small amount of a higher-salt item once in a while isn’t a problem.
But what if you eat lots of high-salt foods? Why not use the fact that you’re starting to feed your baby solids to inspire a whole family eating habit make-over. Remember that your actions speak louder than words. And, kids are smart. Typically at around 10 months old they’ll realize that you’re eating different foods than them and will want what you’re eating. If you’re not okay with your baby eating what you eat, then why are you okay with eating those foods yourself? Now is a fantastic time to make changes to your eating habits to role model healthy eating for your child.
Do you have a question that you’d like me to answer here? Email me at Kristen@KristenYarker.com and mention “Love Child Blog” in the subject line.
Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD
Helping Moms and Dads support their picky eaters to try new foods on their own (without being forceful or sneaky)