Avoid Giving Your Baby Too Much Sugar & Salt
What to Know
- Too much salt can be harmful for babies.
- Many products geared towards toddlers contain added salt and/or sugar.
- Using fresh or dried herbs and spices is a great way to enhance the flavor of your baby’s food.
- Babies are learning how to eat and taste, they don’t expect a food to be flavored with added salt or sugar!
If your baby is about to start solids, you may be concerned about the lurking salt and added sugar that’s in many foods and wondering how much is too much for your little one. Babies do need some salt in their diet, but it’s easily met through breast milk or formula.
Too much salt can actually be harmful for babies’ kidneys, which is why it’s important to be aware of sources in your child’s diet. The American Academy of Pediatrics and American Heart Association recommend children age 1-3 get no more than 1500 mg per day of sodium. And for babies between 6 and 12 months, the recommended Adequate Intake (AI) is 370 mg sodium.
When you start serving your baby solids, aim to rely on foods’ natural flavors – such as the sweetness that comes from roasting root vegetables – to please your baby’s palate. As for salt, no need to sprinkle it on! To enhance the flavor of foods, try using fresh or dried herbs and spices that add flavor without sodium.
Most pre-made foods that are marketed for infants (up to 12 months old) are low in sodium. However, this is not always the case for foods aimed at toddlers (12-36 months old), such as pasta with sauce, dips and dressings for veggies, crackers, pretzels, processed meats and cheese.
How can parents reduce the amount of sodium in their child’s diet? When feeding babies, select foods that are designed for infants since they have lower sodium levels, or prepare homemade foods that are made with no added salt. Be cautious of “convenience foods” marketed to toddlers as they may contain a high amount of sodium. Compare Nutrition Fact Panels to find products lower in sodium. And whenever possible, provide fresh, whole foods for meals and snacks, enhancing the flavor of foods using herbs, spices and different cooking techniques.
Unfortunately, many packaged foods aimed at babies and toddlers contain added sugar – that is, sugar that has been added to the product and is not naturally occurring. While babies naturally gravitate towards sweet tasting foods, that does not mean their meals and snacks need to be enhanced with added sources of sugar.
Look at the ingredient list of kid-friendly foods such as cereals, bars, juices or fruit snacks and you’ll likely see sugar has been added. Added sugars to be aware of include: cane sugar, malt or corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, honey, and high fructose corn syrup – to name a few. When shopping, look for products with minimal or no added sugars in the ingredient list.
Much like with sodium, the best way to minimize added sugar in your child’s diet is to rely on whole, fresh foods as much as possible such as fruit, vegetables, minimally processed dairy, beans, legumes, meat, fish, and whole grains. Enhancing the natural sweetness of foods can be as easy as mashing a ripe banana in yogurt or oatmeal, or roast sweet potatoes with a dash of cinnamon.
While it’s difficult to cut out convenience foods such as jarred sauces and canned beans, added sugar and salt in your child’s diet can be minimized by using fresh, whole foods as much as possible. This will not only expose your little one to a variety of delicious foods, flavors and textures, but also set taste preferences and help children make healthy food choices for life.
What to Do
- Use fresh or dried herbs and spices to enhance the flavor of foods. Try cinnamon on roasted root vegetables, dill on baked fish, or a dried herb blend mixed into soft cooked noodles.
- Use fresh fruit or purees to enhance the sweetness of foods. Try mashed banana in yogurt or applesauce mixed with oatmeal.
- Read food labels and ingredient lists so you’re aware of which foods contain added salt or sugar and how much. The new nutrition facts label will list how much added sugar a product has!
- Opt for whole, fresh foods for your child’s snacks over “toddler friendly” foods that contain added salt and sugar. Fresh cut fruit, veggie sticks dipped in hummus, hard boiled eggs or yogurt make great snacks for little ones.
- Babies and toddlers can eat what the family eats as long as the food is safe in size and texture. Cook without using salt and add it to the adult portions only, as needed, so your baby can share in the family food.
Author: Rachel G.
Rachel holds a Master’s in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University and is also a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. She works as a nutrition and wellness coach with focuses on infant and maternal nutrition, and mindful eating.
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