Salt - why the fuss & what to do...

As parents, we are always trying to make sure that our kids get enough of the good stuff and not too much of the bad. Salt intake is probably the one thing which worries me the most simply because it seems to be in just about everything and can be so hard to track! I've asked child nutritionist, and founder of 'Happy Tums' Theresa McCarthy to give us a bit of insight into why salt intake matters along with some tips we can all follow to try and keep it under control:

Theresa: I thought it might be a good idea to give you all more of an insight into why we should really think about the salt content of foods and dishes when we are feeding our little ones and give you more of an understanding why this topic is so important for us to teach and for you to implement.

Without getting too scientific, common salt is a mineral which is comprised predominantly from sodium chloride and yes, we do need some salt in our bodies to help with many different functions including the transmission of nerve impulses and maintaining a balance of fluid in our bodies.  But, too much salt can have a very detrimental effect on our bodies, especially the effect it can have on our kidneys.

Our bodies are an amazing machine and the kidneys are paramount at helping keep our amazing bodies – well, amazing! The role of the kidneys is to remove unwanted and toxic fluid from our blood in a filtering system and to do that, a delicate balance of sodium (found in salt) & potassium are needed and are essential in this process.  But – and here come the negative part – too much sodium can completely corrupt this process. What does this mean? Well this means that your kidneys reduce their ability to remove this excess and unwanted fluid and this is then stored causing high blood pressure and strain on the delicate vessels leading to your kidneys. If this continues, and high blood pressure is constant, it could lead to kidney failure, strokes and heart disease.

So – that’s why we “bang on about it” – because we need to think about our little ones as their bodies begin to grow and develop, and think of how small and immature their kidneys are in someone so young!

From 6 months, our babies need no more than 1g of salt per day which is the equivalent of 2 slices of bread. It is important to point out that salt is common in products such as bread and cheese so just make sure they are not having too many cheese sandwiches each day!  As a general guide, a food is high in salt if it has more than 1.5g of salt per 100g and low in salt if it contains less than 0.3g of salt per 100g

Unfortunately, salt is present in a lot of processed foods which is why we think it is so important to try and make your own foods when you can. A green pesto bought from the supermarket contains 2g of salt per 100g! So, by making your own pesto (and babies love pesto), you can really help to reduce the salt intake for your little ones. If you don’t know how to make pesto, we have a recipe here 

When I was training as a Public Health Nutritionist, I spent 3 year working with the amazing Susan Malcolm who was ASDA’s Nutritionist there at Head Office. We ran a project alongside the organisation CASH (Consensus for Action on Salt and Health) where we worked with suppliers to reduce the salt content of over 2000 of their products and it was very successful. However, this was just a small part in this battle that we face with manufacturers, suppliers and the supermarkets. I know it can be done but it still isn’t enough and more and more products still contain too much salt. Cereal for goodness sake – why on earth does salt even appear!? Kellogg’s cornflakes contain 1.13g of salt per 100g – nearly making it a high salt product! Someone please help me here – It’s crazy!

So, in order to help you guys as you are starting to wean or if you are weaning already, our top tips to reduce the salt intake for your little ones (and maybe yourselves!) are as follows:

  • Check all labelling of products. The traffic light system is a good indication of a high, medium or low salt content product.

  • Try and make your foods if you can, especially things like sauces which can be very high in salt

  • Don’t add extra salt to dishes for your little ones.

  • Use very low salt stock cubes

  • Avoid salty gravies and things like soy sauce and fish sauce

  • Use un-salted butter

  • Avoid processed salty meats such as ham, bacon, salamis and chorizo. When the second ingredient on a packet of chorizo is salt and 100g contains 3.5g of salt – this is NOT advisable as a suitable food for a baby or child.

  • Don’t remove cheese or bread from the diet at all, but just don’t give your little ones lots of both each day. And look out for low salt cheeses such as the Indian cheese Paneer which is very low salt.

So to those who have been attending my workshops, I am sorry if I did “bang on about salt” but I hope from reading this, that you understand why!

Theresa is a co-founder of 'Happy Tums' which is a fantastic organisation, run by qualified nutritionists (and mummies!). Happy Tums run a range of weaning workshops and also write a fab blog which you can find here.