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Most Babies Consume Too Much Salt: UK Study


We often hear that adults consume too much salt, but what about babies? A new study from the United Kingdom (UK) reports that 70% of eight-month-old babies take in too much salt from a diet of processed foods and cows’ milk.

Excess salt can harm babies’ health

The findings of this new study from the University of Bristol were based on the three-day dietary records provided by the mothers of 1,178 eight-month-old babies who participated in the Children of the 90s study. Researchers grouped the babies into four categories based on salt (sodium chloride) intake.

The investigators found that most of the infants were first given solids at age 3 to 4 months, and the mean salt consumption for the highest group at age 8 months was more than twice the maximum recommended amount for that age group (400 mg sodium daily up to age 12 months). Cows’ milk was the main beverage for babies in this top group.

Compared with breast milk, which is the recommended milk for children up to at least one year of age and has only 15 mg of sodium per 100 grams, cows’ milk has 55 mg per 100 grams. Babies in this highest group also consumed three times the amount of bread compared with the children in the lowest group, and were given gravy and other salty flavorings.

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Babies are not able to process sodium as well as adults. High levels of salt can damage a child’s kidneys and set into motion poor eating habits at a very early age, establishing a taste for salty, processed foods that can continue throughout adulthood.

Given the fact that high blood pressure and heart disease are being seen with increasing frequency among young people, stemming the intake of salt at an early age and establishing taste preferences for natural, unsalted foods could be a foundation for a healthier living.

According to the study’s nutritionists, Dr. Pauline Emmett and Vicky Cribb, “These findings show that salt intakes need to be substantially reduced in children of this age group.” They also noted that their research “suggests that clear advice is needed for parents about what foods are suitable for infants.”

Babies are not born with a craving for salt—it is something they learn. Parents can help avoid that craving by not giving their babies highly processed foods, such as canned vegetables and soups and frozen entrees, avoiding fast foods and condiments, carefully reading labels on any foods and liquids they give their babies, and encouraging their babies eat whole foods such as whole grains without added salt, fruits, and vegetables.

The authors noted that “if this study were repeated today it is likely that there would be some improvement but not enough to safeguard the health of all babies.” Although food manufacturers in the UK and United States have started reducing salt content in some foods, much more needs to be done, so parents need to be vigilant about the salt intake of their babies.

Cribb VL et al. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011 Jul 20; doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2011.137
Picture source: Morguefile