Salt and sugar are used as flavour enhancers in our food. Excessive consumption of both salt and sugar can lead to serious health problems in adults and children. According to most health organisations worldwide, adults should limit salt consumption to between ¾ and 1 teaspoon per day. Sugar consumption should be limited to 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 per day for men. Salt and sugar should be avoided for babies as excess consumption is harmful and can cause problems such as impaired kidney function, tooth decay, decreased immunity, etc.
What is the Daily Requirement of Salt and Sugar in Baby’s Diet?
According to various health organizations, infants should not be given any salt until 6 months of age. Their sodium needs are met by the salt contained in mother’s milk. Babies aged between 6 months to 1 year should be given no more than 1 gram of salt per day, which contains 0.4 grams of sodium. The salt intake of toddlers aged between 1 and 3 years should be limited to 2 grams per day and children aged 4 to 6 should consume no more than 3 grams of salt per day.
Babies do not need added sugars or refined sugar in their diet. The sugar requirements of the baby can be met by food rich in carbohydrates and other naturally sweet foods such as fruits.
Why Should You Avoid Sugar and Salt in Your Infant’s Diet?
Here are the various reasons why you should avoid including salt and added sugars in your baby’s diet:
1. Affects Kidney Function: Excessive salt intake can impair kidney function as the infant’s kidneys cannot process and eliminate high levels of salt from the blood. This strains the kidneys and can cause kidney disease at a later stage.
2. Causes Kidney Stones: Excess sodium from the salt also causes the body to excrete more calcium in the urine. This calcium can form kidney stones. The kidney stones cause symptoms such as severe pain in the body, fever and chills, nausea and vomiting, burning pain while urinating, and blood in the urine.
3. High Blood Pressure: Excess salt intake can cause high blood pressure or hypertension. Babies who consume too much salt develop hypertension as adults.
4. Danger of Dehydration: Babies who have excess salt in their bodies are in danger of dehydration, as salt causes the body to lose water in the form of urine and sweat. Infants will not be able to indicate that they are thirsty, and adults may not realise that they are dehydrated until serious symptoms show up. Dehydration symptoms caused by giving your baby too much salt include kidney stones, joint and muscle damage, constipation, and liver damage.
5. Brittle Bones: Too much salt consumption causes increased sodium levels in the body. This, in turn, causes excretion of too much calcium. Thus, the body loses calcium, which is essential for the development of strong bones. The calcium depletion can lead to a condition called osteoporosis which makes the bones thin and brittle.
6. Tooth Decay: Consuming excessive amounts of added sugars can cause painful cavities and tooth decay. Bacteria in the mouth use sugar from foods to produce acids that damage the teeth.
7. Obesity: Too much sugar in the diet means more calories. Even in an active baby, this could result in a lot of unused calories which get converted to fat and stored in the body. Obesity or having excess body fat is very unhealthy for a baby.
8. Diabetes: Eating too much sugar can lead to type 2 diabetes later in life. Diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels.
9. Lethargy: High blood sugar levels can result in overproduction of the hormone insulin which regulates blood sugar levels. Too much insulin can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar levels, leading to lethargy, inactivity and tiredness in the baby.
10. Hyperactivity: Since sugar is absorbed into the blood very quickly, high sugar consumption causes blood sugar levels to shoot up. This leads to higher adrenaline levels and causes hyperactivity in children.
11. Poor Dietary Habits: Consuming excess salt and sugar as a baby leads to a pattern of poor dietary choices later in life. This, in turn, causes lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes and hypertension.
12. Avoiding Breast Milk: If babies begin to like the taste of salt and sugar, they may avoid or reject breast milk. This is detrimental to the growing baby, as breast milk contains several vital nutrients essential for the baby’s growth and development.
13. Do Not Know The Real Taste Of Vegetables: If the baby’s food contains too much salt or sugar, this will mask the original taste of the vegetables and the food. The baby will start liking the taste of vegetables if it is not masked by too much salt or added sugar.
Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about salt and sugar intake in babies:
1. How will your baby get sodium if you completely avoid salt?
The baby’s sodium needs are met by breast milk for the first 6 months. Apart from this, most foods naturally contain sodium. So the baby’s salt intake should be less than 1 gram per day for the first 1 year.
2. How to add flavour to infant’s food without adding salt?
Foods can be made flavourful without the addition of salt. Spices such as cumin powder, asafoetida, cinnamon, and herbs like coriander mint can flavour the food and enhance the taste. You can also flavour the food using onion and garlic. However, spices must be added in minute quantities, and new foods should be introduced slowly (1 tablespoon on the first day, 2 the next, and so on) to make sure there are no allergic reactions. Herbs must be thoroughly washed and finely chopped or minced. They should be introduced into the baby’s diet only after 7 months of age.
3. What are the substitutes of sugar for baby food?
There are plenty of naturally sweet substances that can be used as sugar substitutes. They include any fruit puree, date syrup, and honey. However, date syrup and honey should not be given to infants below 8 months of age.
4. Will my baby eat bland food without salt and what if he does not like it?
Adults cannot eat bland food without salt as they are used to it. A baby has never tasted salt and will therefore not feel that the food is bland. In case the baby does not seem to like the food, you can try to enhance the taste using flavour enhancing spices like cumin, cinnamon or asafoetida, herbs like mint or coriander, and garlic or onion.
5. When to start salt and sugar in baby’s food?
You need not give a baby salt until 1 year of age. If you do want to introduce salt, limit it to less than 1 gram per day for babies older than 6 months. However, it is better to avoid salt for babies under 1 year of age. Giving sugar to infants less than 1 year of age is not recommended. Baby foods do not require added sugars. You can use natural sugar substitutes like fruit puree, date syrup or honey. Even fruit juices given to babies must be diluted to reduce the sugar content.
Salt and sugar can do more harm than good for babies. Hence, it is better to avoid them at least until the baby turns 1 year old. Processed foods should also not be given to babies as they contain high amounts of salt. Many commercial baby foods may also contain added sugars. Check the ingredients carefully to determine the salt and sugar content if you have to use commercial baby food in situations like travelling. Keep your baby healthy by giving homemade food without added salt or sugar.
Also Read: Honey for Babies – Is It Safe?