Taste for Salt Formed In Infancy, Sets Stage for Later Dietary Problems
The American Heart Association recommends that sodium intake for most adults not exceed 1500 milligrams per day. Unfortunately, many of us consume two to four times that much, primarily from processed convenience foods and fast food. But our taste for salt is not entirely our fault. Blame it on your parents. A human’s affinity for salty foods begins in infancy.
New research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and funded by the National Institutes of Health finds that babies who are fed starchy, salty table foods such as crackers and breakfast cereals are more likely to gravitate toward high sodium foods by the time they enter preschool.
Dr. Gary Beauchamp, a behavioral biologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, and colleagues followed 61 small children, starting in early infancy, and evaluated what their parents fed them at home. At 2 months and 6 months of age, the infants were given taste tests, in which they were given water and two different salt solutions – 1%, which is about the sodium level as a store-bought chicken noodle soup, and 2%, which would be characterized as “very salty” by most adults.
The children who were exposed to the most salt at home preferred the salty liquids over plain water and consumed about 55% more sodium during the taste test. Those babies who had not been fed salt were either indifferent to the salt water or rejected it.
When the kids reached preschool age, the children who developed the taste for salt continued to eat more of it, actually licking salt from a plate or even eating plain salt alone.
“Our data would suggest that if one wants to reduce salt in the population as a whole, then it’s important to start early because infants and children are very vulnerable,” said Dr. Beauchamp.
“Exactly what constitutes too much salt is somewhat of a matter of controversy. But for kids over the age of 1 and 2, what they’re consuming now is well beyond what is recommended by every major health organization in the world,” he adds. The National Academy of Sciences recommends that infants 6 to 12 months old be given no more than about 375 milligrams of sodium per day.
It has been estimated that reducing sodium intake could prevent more than 100,000 deaths annually and save billions in medical costs in the United States alone.
Fortunately, just as tasting salty foods early in life makes us like it more, we can also adjust our affinity for salt downward. Gradually reducing the sodium in the diet toward the AHA goals for cardiovascular health is much easier for adults to achieve than going “cold turkey.” The National Institutes of Health suggest the following tips:
• Buy fresh or frozen vegetables more often than canned. When choosing canned foods, select those with “no salt added.”
• Use more fresh meats, poultry and fish rather than processed choices such as deli meats, hot dogs, and sausages.
• When cooking, cutting the salt added to foods by half usually has little impact on the taste of the end product but saves you a lot of sodium. Use more herbs and spices that do not contain sodium for flavor.
• Cut back on “convenience” foods and cook from scratch more often.
• When eating out, ask that your dish be prepared with no added salt. If needed, at the table, you can sprinkle a little on the food which will add the salty taste you desire without as much sodium as would have been added in the kitchen.
Stein LJ, e al "The development of salty taste acceptance is related to dietary experience in human infants: a prospective study" Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 94: 123–129.