Hold off on the sweet treats and the tasty dishes for the baby! Learn why you shouldn’t give your baby salt and sugar before the age of one here.
What can you read in this article?
- No salt and sugar for babies
- Foods that contain a high amount of salt and sugar
Once the time comes to start weaning your baby, a lot of questions will naturally arise: What are the best foods for my baby’s growth and development? What can’t I feed my baby until he or she is a toddler?
First, it could help to ask yourself why you think your baby needs a certain food or condiment and their diet? For instance, salt is often added in an effort to make food less bland, especially when a child seems uninterested in a specific dish.
Grownups often get excited when the baby in the house starts eating solids. They want her to enjoy eating, so much so that they prepare different kinds of food for her, food that sometimes may not be good for the little one.
When my daughter started eating solids, we were very careful on the food that we gave her. However, we knew other babies her age who were fed other foods even before they turned 6 months. My friend’s baby was offered a chunk of fried pork and ice cream, “Tikim lang,” by her grandparents when she was 5 months old.
What seemed like a harmless effort to get their baby to eat more or like more food, is actually something that might affect her health and diet later on.
Does your baby’s food need salt and sugar to make her meals tastier?
In general, salt is added to food to make it less bland. But did you know that your baby won’t be able to tell the difference?
Some people think that the baby doesn’t like the taste of food or find it too bland that’s why they won’t eat it. But the truth is because babies have only known the taste of breastmilk until they reach six months of age, there is no need to add salt to flavor their food, because they won’t be able to tell the difference anyway.
In fact, in their first year of life, they really are not interested in eating yet, or haven’t really developed an appetite for food. They are not that particular to taste yet, but the texture of the food that they are eating.
So contrary to what other adults think, you do not need to give your baby salt and sugar in their food for them to eat better. Below, we give you more reasons why you should hold off on the sweet and savory treats for baby.
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The harmful effects of adding salt to baby food
According to Sara Bushell, a registered dietitian and children’s nutritionist, a baby’s daily salt requirement is less than 1 gram per day (0.4 g. of sodium)–an amount usually met by formula or breastmilk.
“Babies only need a tiny amount of salt, in fact it’s less than 1g per day until they turn one. For the first 6 months of life they will meet their salt needs through breastmilk or formula,” she said.
Anything more than this amount could be too overwhelming for their little kidneys to process. This may pose risks for hypertension and even, kidney disease as your child grows. Bushell added that a high sodium diet in childhood has also been linked to osteoporosis as it interferes with calcium absorption. It’s also linked to asthma, obesity and some cancers.
But how do babies get to eat too much salt anyway?
If you prefer making homemade baby food without salt, you’re all good. But if you buy other staple foods for weaning such as bread, crackers, breadsticks and cheese, you may find that they are actually very high in salt because it is needed as part of the recipe.
As parents, you need to know how to determine whether a certain type of commercial baby food has a safe salt content.
According to the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS), food with more than 0.6 g of sodium per 100 grams is already high in salt. You can compute the salt content by multiplying the amount of sodium by 2.5.
Here’s the recommended maximum salt intake per age, according to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN).
|0 to 6 months
||less than 1 g (0.4g of sodium)
|6 to 12 months
||less than 1 g (0.4g of sodium)
|1 to 3 years old
||2 g (0.8g of sodium)
|4 to 6 years old
||3 g (1.2g of sodium)
|7 to 10 years old
||5 g ( 2 g of sodium)
|11 years old and up
||6 g (2.4 g of sodium)
While some people believe adding a pinch of salt in baby food is harmless, the danger lies in the fact that what people view as a “pinch” varies.
Generally, a 1 pinch of salt is equivalent to 1/4 gram. If you add a pinch of salt to three of your baby’s meals a day, it will result to 0.75 mg of salt, on top of the salt your baby’s getting from breastmilk or formula.
How can you add flavor to baby food without adding salt? You can try alternative age-appropriate spices, such as turmeric and cinnamon.
Another common mistake well-meaning older relatives make is they mix rice and the sabaw from their meals and feed it to baby. But this can be done differently. While you cook your sinigang or tinola, you can set aside a portion of the stock for baby before you add salt to the mix. This way, baby can have a lot of the flavor without the salt.
Why isn’t sugar advisable for babies below a year old?
Many parents often misunderstand that no sugar means no sweet foods for their babies, and in so doing they miss out on introducing sweet fruits to their babies that are actually nutritious.
Sugar, in this particular context, pertains to white refined sugar and not naturally sweet fruits or natural sweeteners. Again, there are a lot of pre-packaged foods that contain sugar which may be unknowingly getting their way into your child’s diet. For instance, sweet beverages and crackers that contain fructose and corn syrup.
Last year, the committee of nutrition of the American Academy of Pediatrics, reiterated their advice that babies should “Avoid foods and beverages with added sugars during the first 2 years of life.
The energy in such products is likely to displace energy from nutrient-dense foods, increasing the risk of nutrient inadequacies,” they said.
Below are some more reasons why you shouldn’t give your baby sugar:
- Because sugar undergoes a lot of chemical refining processes, it may be harmful to babies and children.
- Excessive sugar intake can cause tooth decay and dental caries in babies and children.
- A high sugar intake may deplete the immune system.
- Studies have also found that kids with a high sugar diet are more predisposed to developing heart disease, obesity, and diabetes later on in life.
Added sugar is referred to as those used in processed foods and beverages to sweeten, and differ from the natural sugars that are part of a piece of fruit or milk, preferably breast milk.
“Mother’s milk has sugar in it, but it’s packed full of immune boosting, infection fighting components and is the perfect combination of fats, proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins for a baby’s needs.
However, while 100% fruit juice may appear to offer the same nutritional benefit as whole fruit, in reality it does not. Fruit juice, especially for kids in the first year of life, is a source of sugar without many nutrient benefits, so this should always be avoided,” said Dr. Steven Abrams, who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on nutrition
Furthermore, babies have an innate preference for sweetness, so it’s important to give them ample time (at least a year) to develop a palate for healthy foods that do not contain added sugar.
What are great substitutes for sugar in baby food?
Even though it’s not necessary to sweeten your baby’s every meal, you can occasionally add natural sweeteners to their meals.
- You can add any fruit to baby food to make them naturally sweet.
- You can also mix in a bit of your breast milk to the food, to help your child’s palate adjust to it better.
- Until your baby is about eight months old, you can use dates syrup to sweeten their meals (after 8 months).
- After they turn a year old, you can start using honey as a natural sweetener.
You don’t have to give your baby salt and sugar to make him enjoy his food better. All you need is a bit of research to find which food babies tend to like, a bit of creativity and a lot of patience to make sure his diet and nutrition is off to a great start. If you have any questions regarding your baby’s diet, don’t hesitate to talk to his pediatrician about it.
Additional information from Camille Eusebio
CNN, Children’s Nutrition
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