The following information is not to be taken with a grain of salt. I’m already worrying about feeding my baby too much sugar and setting off nut allergies; now, I’ve got another nutritional worry: My baby is likely getting too much salt in her diet.
In the United Kingdom, approximately 70 percent of 8-month-old babies get more than healthy levels of sodium, and researchers say the U.S. diet has a similar trend.
Though salt is necessary in small amounts, most kids are getting more than twice the maximum safe amount. Why is this bad? What are the risks? And where is it all coming from? The answers to these questions are seriously pissing me off!
What's most frustrating to me is the fact that ordinary, seemingly "non-salty" foods tend to contain an exorbitant amount of sodium. For example, when I started feeding solids to Penelope, my older daughter, my pediatrician surprised me by recommending that I get alternate “O” cereals -- the Trader Joe’s house brand was what we settled on -- because Cheerios have loads of sodium. "I can always tell when a baby’s getting too much sodium," he told me. "They get kinda bloated."
Well, who can tell the difference? My babies are chubby as all get-out! (He says it’s a "different chubby," but my eyes don’t see it -- yet.)
In these kinds of massive amounts, sodium can have long-term health effects that’ll make you cry 96 tears. According to Ashley Koff, dietitian and co-author of Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged, the risks include dehydration, constipation, and a taste for salt that will make it harder for them to cut it out later.
So how much is too much? In the UK, the maximum recommended allowance is 400 mg per day, or about an eighth of a teaspoon. The US doesn’t have a maximum recommendation, but according to Koff, “We do have an 'adequate intake' to show how small the need is." From 0-6 months, she says, 120 mg is all a kid needs. From 7-12 months, up to 1 gram of salt (or 1/4 teaspoon) is okay, but only if the kid is very active and sweating a lot.
I know we’re not adding salt to our kids’ foods, but every kid I know gets Cheerios. I’ve been more aware of salt since I had pre-eclampsia, and I’m more at risk for hypertension, and I’m amazed at the weird places I find it. In fact, I noticed that plain canned tomato sauce came in a low-salt variety. Which means the regular kind has salt. Crap! And forget the handy-dandy mac and cheese I split between the girls for lunch a couple times a week -- even though I get the organic kind, it’s still got more salt than is healthy.
The more I see low-sodium versions of foods, the more I realize that the regular versions have far more salt than my family and I need. And I'm telling you, I don't taste the difference. (Well, except that now that I've reduced salt when cooking at home, everything tastes over-salted when I eat out!)
Koff offers these further suggestions for adjusting your kids' sodium intake:
Kids don’t need any added salt ... Foods like celery, tuna fish, olives, and some cheeses have all the naturally-occurring sodium they’ll need. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t be serving them any processed foods and you certainly shouldn’t be adding table salt to anything you feed them.
No processed foods? Ha ha ha, she's a funny one. Still, it's good advice to follow.
Do you watch your baby’s salt intake?