It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for, when your baby finally stops slurping all their liquid meals and can actually swallow some solids. But if you’ve ever sampled some of your child’s first foods, they can be a little, well, bland at best. Before you start reaching for the condiments, you might ask yourself: can babies have salt? It’s best to know before you start sprinkling it all over their strained peas.
Can Your Baby Have Salt?
Even though you might think your baby’s food needs some saltiness, it most likely doesn’t, advises Dr. Arunima Agarwal, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician. “For babies 12 months or younger, it’s not recommended to add salt to their food,” she says. “Salt naturally occurs in many foods, and is often added to many processed foods — even bread and cereal.” That’s why it’s important to read labels to see how much salt the food contains, and opt to serve your child fresh foods low in salt (and not overly processed foods, since they contain higher sodium levels) as often as you can.
Is It Necessary To Add Salt To A Baby’s Food?
Although a lot of foods already have salt added to them, you might not need to shake some extra into your child’s meal. Why? The meal might be salty enough — but you just can’t taste it. That’s right, your taste buds decrease in function as you age, a PubMed study found. So what might seem like a blah baby food might have just enough salt in it to satisfy your little sweetie. Plus, the food probably has enough (if not more) salt than your baby needs. “The adequate intake of sodium for babies 7-12 months of age is around 360mg per day,” Rooted Wellness founder Sarah Rueven, RD, MS, CDN, tells Romper. “This equates to about a pinch of salt daily.”
Are There Any Risks To Adding Salt To A Baby’s Diet?
It might seem like a pinch of salt shouldn’t adversely affect your baby, but it potentially could. "A baby’s kidneys aren't mature enough to handle much sodium, so the amount they need in a day is very low,” says Kara Hoerr, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist tells Romper. “Babies under 1 year of age need no more than 200mg/day from food, since they're already getting sodium from breastmilk or formula, and toddlers 1 to 3 years of age still only need about 800 mg of sodium daily.” And when you understand how much sodium is already in the foods that we eat (a slice of bread alone can have over 200 mg of sodium), then you can see how quickly it can all add up. Says Dr. Agarwal: “High daily sodium intake increases risk for high blood pressure at earlier onset.”
Here’s What You Can Do To Spice Up Your Baby’s Food Safely
Let’s say that those unsalted carrots just aren’t cutting it. Well, if you want to add more flavor to your child’s food, skip the salt and opt for spices instead. “It's better to expose babies to more diverse flavors from the very beginning with other seasonings rather than just salt," advises Hoerr. Dr. Agarwal agrees, adding, “When preparing foods, try to use herbs, lemon juice and other spices rather than salt.”
So, Should You Be Measuring Your Baby’s Salt Intake?
Yes, but not excessively. “There's no need to stress and count milligrams of salt,” advises Rueven. “As long as your child's diet isn’t centered around processed foods, your baby should be taking in an appropriate amount.” Be sure to limit higher-sodium food choices (think processed soups, veggies, hot dogs, olives, and cheese, for example), so that your child gets the right amount of salt intake without posing a risk to their health.
Salt is in almost everything we eat, and as such, there’s really no reason to up Baby’s salt intake. Just know that it’s flavors (and not sodium) that your baby should be exposed to, so that you help your child create a lifelong healthy love of foods that are both diverse and nutritious.
Narukawa, M., Kurokawa, A., Kohta, R., Misaka, T. “Participation of the peripheral taste system in aging-dependent changes in taste sensitivity” 2017.
Dr. Arunima Agarwal, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician
Rooted Wellness founder Sarah Rueven, RD, MS, CDN
Kara Hoerr, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist