As your baby transitions into toddlerhood, you're likely to have questions and concerns about their evolving dietary needs, including their salt intake. Salt is a topic of concern for parents, especially because the guidelines change as your child grows. Up until 1 year of age, it's recommended to restrict salt in your baby's diet, but what about after they turn 1? Let's explore the key aspects of salt intake for toddlers and how to navigate this transition in a healthy way.
Why Controlled Salt Intake Is Key?
Before delving into how much salt your toddler should consume, let’s understand why controlled salt intake is important for their development. Salt is primarily composed of sodium, which is a nutrient that helps maintain fluid balance, nerve function, and muscle contraction in the body. But, excessive salt intake can lead to health issues like high blood pressure or an increased risk of chronic diseases later in life.
Studies conducted among the Indian population shows that people consume more sodium than what’s required by their bodies. This is true of toddlers too, who end up having more salt than the required daily intake. That’s why we emphasize that parents and caregivers should monitor the child’s salt intake until they turn 2.
Remember, the foundation of taste preferences is laid in infancy. The foods that your baby is exposed to at this stage will influence their future dietary choices and eating habits. Encouraging salty or sugary foods at this stage can lead to a preference for these flavors, which can lead to health risks in the long run.
When Can We Add Salt to Toddler's Food?
Once your baby turns 1, you can start adding small quantities of salt to their food. All foods contain some amount of salt naturally, even without additional seasoning.
Monitoring salt intake is more manageable when your baby primarily eats homemade meals. But, if your child occasionally eats outside or packaged foods, please be mindful of the sodium content in these products. If a food is high in sodium, limit the quantity your toddler consumes.
How Much Salt Can Toddlers Have?
For children between 1-3 years, the recommended daily allowance for salt is 800-1000 mg. While this might seem like a large amount, it's actually really easy to meet this requirement.
Did you know that our bodies absorb 100% of the sodium we ingest? To put it in perspective, 2 grams of salt (1 tsp) fulfills the daily requirement of 800 mg. So, when you use a small amount of salt in your home-cooked meals, the body efficiently absorbs it.
Why Continue to Restrict Salt Intake in Toddlers?
It’s common among Indian parents to assume that when their child rejects a certain dish, it’s because it’s too “feeka” or “bland.” They believe that adding salt to the dish will enhance the flavor and encourage their baby to accept it well. But this is not the case. Excessive salt intake can have long-term health consequences for toddlers; here's why:
1) Taste preferences: Babies are born with natural preferences for sweet, salty, and umami flavors. Repeated exposure to very salty foods reinforces this taste preference, potentially causing them to favor salty foods over healthier options. Processed foods, high in sodium and low in essential nutrients, can lead to unhealthy eating habits
2) Immature kidneys: A baby's kidneys are still maturing, making it difficult for them to process large amounts of salt. Even as they enter toddlerhood, it's best to avoid excessive salt intake to prevent any damage.
Some studies also suggest that high sodium exposure during early childhood may increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease later in life.
High-Sodium Foods to Avoid
To keep your toddler's salt intake in check, it's important to be mindful of foods high in sodium. While occasional consumption is okay, these foods should not become a regular thing.
Here is a list of high-sodium foods:
- Instant Noodles
- Salted Fish
- Cold cuts and cured meats (e.g., deli meats, bacon, ham, and sausage)
- Chips and namkeen
- Frozen foods and ready-to-eat curries, gravies, and snacks
- Crackers, khari, and biscuits
- Store-bought spice blends (e.g., masala cubes and masala mixes)
- Packaged mixes for pasta and noodles
- Olives, pickles, sauerkraut, and other pickled vegetables
- Store-bought salad dressings
- Condiments like soy sauce and ketchup
- Bread and bread products
- Tomato/pasta sauces
- Canned vegetables and beans
- Cereal (not made for babies)
- French fries
How to Identify High-Sodium Foods
Taste alone may not always reveal a food's sodium content. Hence, it’s important to check the nutrition labels on the pack. When shopping for packaged foods, you can use the following reference point for understanding the level of sodium content:
LOW: 0.3 grams and below (per 100 grams)
MEDIUM: 0.3 grams to 1.5 grams (per 100 grams)
HIGH: Above 1.5 grams (per 100 grams)
How Parents Can Keep Salt Consumption Low in Toddlers
Here are some practical steps you can take to ensure that your child’s salt intake remains within healthy limits:
1) Offer home-made meals: Whenever possible, offer your child homemade meals. This allows you to have control over the amount of salt added to the food, ensuring it's within the recommended range. Compared to restaurant or packaged foods, homemade meals will contain less salt.
Many readymade masala powders contain extra salt for flavor enhancement, such as Maggie seasoning cubes or masalas. To minimize salt intake, opt for small quantities of typical Indian powdered spices like cumin, coriander, and turmeric to enhance the flavor. Feel free to use small quantities of garam masala, chole masala, biryani masala, etc.
2) Mindfully balance their diet: Focus on the overall composition of your toddler's diet to achieve a balanced intake. If your child occasionally consumes high-salt foods, make a deliberate effort to ensure that other meals on the same day are low in salt. Similarly, if they indulge in a high-sodium snack, consider balancing their diet with low-sodium meals throughout the week. This approach helps maintain a healthy balance for your toddler.
3) Read and compare food labels: When selecting packaged foods, compare nutrition labels to choose lower-sodium options.
4) Avoid salty snacks: Try your best to limit the consumption of salty snacks (chips, wafers, namkeen, farsan, bhujiya, sev, chivda), as these items are often packed with sodium. Instead, offer healthier and more nourishing snack options whenever you can. We understand that it may not always be feasible, especially for working parents or single parents without caregiving support. However, prioritize a nutritious diet for your toddler to the best of your abilities.
5) Swap the butter: Consider using unsalted butter instead of the more popular salted butter.
6) Avoid pickles and sauces: Keep your child away from pickles, sauces, and canned foods, as they often contain high sodium.
What About Other Types of Salt?
You may wonder if Himalayan salt or black salt are healthier alternatives to regular table salt. While these salts contain some natural minerals, they are still primarily composed of the same amount of sodium as regular salt. So, apply the same rules to these salts as you would to regular table salt.
Regular table salt, which is fortified with iodine and iron, is a good choice for toddlers. Iodine is a vital nutrient that can be challenging to obtain through other dietary sources. Choosing iodized table salt ensures your child receives this essential nutrient.