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Sodium: what you need to know about salt

In this video, Dr Carely Grimes discusses an infant's sodium requirements and how to keep their sodium intake in check.
CARLEY GRIMES: One nutrient that is known to affect our health across life, yet is often overlooked in infants diets is sodium, more commonly known as salt. Too much sodium during infancy may increase the risk of developing high blood pressure later in life. Research has shown that a diet with more sodium during the first six months of life raises blood pressure. This is concerning, because a child with raised blood pressure is more likely to have high blood pressure as an adult. Hi, my name is Dr. Carley Grimes, and I’m a research fellow working within Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research. Early life exposure to sodium may also promote the development of taste preferences for salty foods.
Research shows that infants exposed to salty starch first foods during weaning enjoy salty tastes more than other babies by the age of six months. It also shows that they go on to have a greater liking for the taste of salt at four years of age. This suggests that early exposure to salt seems to programme children to like saltier foods. Research from Deakin University shows sodium intake among nine-month-old Australian babies is far too high, with intakes more than double what is needed for good health By 18 months, sodium intakes remain high. My own research shows that older children are also eating far too much sodium. Sodium is found in many foods, making it very easy to over consume.
Most of the sodium Australians eat comes from salt, which is added during manufacture to processed foods. The best way to lower infants exposure to sodium is to look at those foods that contribute the most sodium, cheese, breakfast cereal, and bread. These foods can vary widely in sodium content. For example, the sodium content of cheddar cheese can range from 300 to 800 milligrammes per 100 grammes, and more processed varieties of cheese can have up to 1,500 milligrammes per 100 grammes. This means there is an opportunity to find options which have less sodium. For example, a good rule of thumb is to look for products that meet these targets for sodium content.
Another good strategy is to introduce fresh foods such as vegetables, fruits, eggs, and lean unprocessed meats and fish, all of which are naturally low in sodium and can help to keep sodium intake down.

While eating too much sodium (commonly known as salt) in early life is of concern, there are many simple strategies to help to reduce the amount of sodium in the diets of infants.

Research from Deakin University’s Infant Program shows that, on average, infants aged nine months consume 486 milligrams of sodium per day. This is well above the body’s requirement of 170 milligrams per day at this age. High sodium intake is a problem that persists across the lifespan.

Sodium is an essential mineral, which means we need a small amount of sodium in our diet for our body to function properly. Too much sodium during infancy can change salt preference and blood pressure trajectories across life, and represents a modifiable cardiovascular risk factor.

Sodium is found in a wide range of foods. This includes naturally occurring sodium found in fresh meat, fruits, vegetables, eggs and milk, including breastmilk. Eating these foods can provide our body with all of the sodium that it requires. Sodium is also added during the manufacture of processed foods, such as bread, cheese, breakfast cereals, savoury biscuits and sausages.

Complementary foods introduced during infancy can add extra sodium to the infant’s diet. Those that are commonly consumed and contribute the most sodium include cheese, breakfast cereal and bread.

The amount of sodium found in these foods can vary considerably across different branded products. This means parents should check the food label to find options with less sodium.

Another strategy to reduce the amount of sodium infants are exposed to is to introduce fresh foods, such as vegetables, fruits, eggs and lean, unprocessed meats, which are all naturally low in sodium.

In this video, Dr Carley Grimes discusses which low-sodium foods can be introduced to infants during the complementary feeding period.

Your task

Watch the video and, when you’re done, search online to find out what your country’s guidelines recommend in terms of infant sodium intake.

In the comments, share your discoveries and what foods in your culture may be adding a large amount of sodium to your children’s diets. What can you do to reduce this intake?

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Infant Nutrition: from Breastfeeding to Baby's First Solids

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