How much salt is safe for children? How to reduce salt intake for children and babies

It's Salt Awareness Week
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  • Salt is a key mineral that plays an important role in our overall health supporting vital areas such as muscle and nerve function. But, how much salt is safe for children - and, how can you reduce salt intake for children and babies?

    Too much salt has been associated with increased risk of conditions such as heart disease and stroke as well as putting additional pressure on our kidneys, the organ that filters and cleans our blood.

    And while we may be aware of salt limits for adults, it’s equally as important to understand the maximum amount of salt our little ones should be consuming as part of a healthy balanced diet.

    What is the recommended amount of salt for babies and children?

    Babies and children need very little salt in their diet, particularly because babies’ kidneys aren’t yet fully developed. Below are recommended amounts for each age group. Bear in mind, One teaspoon of table salt  equals to 5.69 grams.

    • Babies under 1 year – less than 1g of salt a day
    • 1 to 3 years – 2g salt a day (0.8g sodium)
    • 4 to 6 years – 3g salt a day (1.2g sodium)
    • 7 to 10 years – 5g salt a day (2g sodium)
    • 11 years and over – 6g salt a day (2.4g sodium)

    What is the difference between sodium and salt?

    Salt is made up of around 40 per cent sodium while the remaining 60 per cent is made up of chloride. Both of these chemical elements play a role in balancing fluid in our cells, which in turn impacts our blood pressure. As an example excess amounts of sodium can lead to an increase in blood pressure.

    To convert salt to sodium you divide it by 2.5 and vice versa. So, as an example 2.5g salt = 1g sodium.

    Breastmilk and salt

    Credit: Getty

    Estimates from one university study* suggests that breast milk has a lower sodium content than cow’s milk. But for those mothers unable to breastfeed or who opt not to for other reasons, the good news is that some varieties of formula appear to have a similar sodium content, as outlined below:

    • Breastmilk: 15mg (0.015g) per 100ml
    • Formula: 15-30 mg (0.015g – 0.03g) per 100ml
    • Cow’s milk: 55mg (0.055g) per 100ml

    N.B: Divide by 1,000 to convert milligrams (mg) into grams (g).

    Weaning and salt

    Babies generally begin weaning from six months onwards, with solid foods slowly being introduced to their diets. No salt should be added to weaning foods. Luckily the novelty of new tastes and textures should stimulate babies’ tastebuds, without the need to get the salt-shaker out.

    Traffic light labelling for salt

    The traffic light system is a useful quick look guide to various elements of our nutrition, including salt, particularly when it comes to choosing ready meals or pre-packaged food for children. Green indicates the healthier of the three choices listed below.

    • Green: 0g – 0.3g Salt/0g -0.1g Sodium
    • Amber: 0.3g – 1.5g Salt/0.1g – 0.6g Sodium
    • Red: More than 1.5g Salt/ More than 0.6g Sodium

    MORE: The hidden sugar in the everyday foods we feed our family

    Which children’s foods are higher in salt?

    In general processed food tends to have a higher salt content than meals made from scratch.

    As an example a survey conducted by campaign group Action for Salt found that 65 cereal products aimed at children had an amber labels, containing more salt than a 100g bag of salted crisps. In another survey, the group analysed 351 children’s meals from 26 outlets including popular high street restaurants, pubs and fast food chains and found that 41 per cent contained more than 1.8g salt per serving. This would be equivalent to red labelling.

    High salt foods to be aware of include:

    • Cheese (high salt varieties include imported blue cheeses such as Roquefort, feta and halloumi)
    • Processed meats such as bacon, ham, salami and sausages
    • Table sauces such as mayonnaise and ketchup
    • Crisps
    • Some brands of bread (check the label)

    Credit: Getty

    Which children’s foods are lower in salt?

    Alongside fresh fruit, vegetables, pulses (if using tinned ensure no added salt) and plain grains such as pasta, rice and cous cous there are a number of lower salt foods to choose from including the below:

    • Fresh meat, poultry and fish (if tinned make sure this is in water)
    • Unsalted snacks e.g. popcorn
    • Lower salt cheeses including cottage cheese, Emmental, ricotta and mozzarella
    • Breakfast cereals (with no added salt, such as Weetabix) and porridge oats
    • Homemade bread, soups and sauces
    • Yogurt

    Simple swaps to reduce children’s salt intake

    • Use herbs, spices and flavourings such as chilli, lemon, garlic and pepper in place of salt where possible
    • Don’t put salt shakers out with meals
    • Create a healthier lunch box using some of the lower salt foods listed above
    • Limit the amount of battered/breaded food to twice a week
    • Choose lower salt varieties of soy sauce, stock cubes and gravy as well as storecupboard staples such as baked beans
    * Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children