Starting solids: Minimising Salt In Your Plant-Based Baby's DietJan 19, 2024
Embarking on the journey of introducing solids to your little one is a milestone filled with excitement and a fair share of questions. One of the considerations in this transition is managing the salt content in your baby’s diet. As a Nutritionist specialising in plant-based baby nutrition, and also a mum, I understand the importance of keeping salt to a minimum and want to share this with you to make you confident in the food you are offering to your little one. Let's explore how and why to choose no or low salt foods for your baby.
Understanding the Importance of Limiting Salt intake in your Baby’s Diet
Salt, while a common ingredient in many foods, should be limited in a baby's diet. Salt is also known as sodium chloride, it is used to flavour food and also as a preservative to increase the shelf life of many foods. Although the human body requires a small quantity of sodium for certain bodily functions, babies kidneys are not fully developed to process a high amount of salt. Excessive salt can also lead to a lifetime habit of preferring salty foods. This could potentially increase the risk of health issues like high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, and potentially predisposing them to diseases such as osteoporosis, respiratory illnesses such as asthma, obesity and stomach cancer in the future. There are estimated to be 1.89 million deaths each year associated with consuming too much sodium. The NHS recommends that babies under one year should have 1 gram or less of salt per day and an adult consume no more than 6 grams.
Where Is Salt Found?
Salt can be found in variable quantities in foods such as bread, jarred sauces, ketchup, packaged snacks, yeast extract, stock cubes, cereal and processed foods and even plant-based milk alternative drinks. Salt isn’t always labelled as ‘salt’ on an ingredients list. It may be labelled as ‘sodium’. The two values do not equate to the same amount. To work out how much sodium in a food equates to it’s salt equivalent you can calculate using a rule of thumb: 1g salt = 400mg sodium. Salt can also have many different names and sources, such as table salt, Himalayan pink salt, sea salt or added as an ingredient in processed foods such as sodium glutamate. However it is important to know that they all contribute to the daily salt intake.
Your baby’s salt needs are already met…
Did you know that breast milk is perfectly designed to meet your baby’s nutritional needs and it contains a tiny amount of salt to support the essential bodily functions that it is necessary for. Infant formula is also designed to replicate the composition of breast milk and therefore is manufactured with the correct amount of salt for your baby’s needs. Therefore between 6 - 12 months of age while your baby is still largely consuming breast milk or formula it’s important to pay attention to the salt available in the solid foods that you provide alongside milk. When beginning weaning, your baby has only ever tasted milk so introducing solid foods will be a taste sensation. Salt-free food may seem a little bland to you but that is not how your baby perceives this experience. If anything adults can become accustomed to salt and once over time may require more and more to still be able to taste it. Not introducing salt at all is the best practice for long term health for your little one.
Tips for Minimising Salt in Your Baby’s Diet
1. Cook from Scratch with Zero Added Salt
Home Cooking: Preparing meals at home allows you to control the ingredients, ensuring no additional salt is added.
Creative Cooking: Experiment with natural flavour enhancers like garlic, onion, herbs, or lemon juice.
2. Opt for Zero Salt Products
What to Do: Choose seasonings that are specifically labelled as zero salt or natural herbs & spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and paprika that add flavour and interest without the need for salt. As well as buying nut butters with no added salt and canned vegetables/lentils in water rather than brine (salted water)
Why It Matters: This ensures that your baby’s food is flavourful without the risks associated with salt intake.
3. Choose Low Salt/Sodium Alternatives
Shopping: When buying products like stock cubes, soy sauce & baked beans opt for those labelled as low salt or sodium.
Reading Labels: Always check the nutritional information to compare the salt content in different products.
4. Avoid Packaged Snacks
Why Packaged Snacks Can Be a Problem: Many packaged snacks, even those marketed for babies, can contain high levels of salt.
Healthy Alternatives: Offer homemade snacks or choose packaged snacks carefully, ensuring they are suitable for infants and low in salt.
5. Offer Fruit and Vegetables for Snacking
Natural Snacks: Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in salt and provide essential nutrients.
Snack Ideas: Soft fruits like bananas, steamed carrot sticks, or cucumber slices make great snacks.
6. Be cautious of vegan alternatives
Vegan ‘meats’ and ‘cheeses’ can contain high levels of salt. If you choose to introduce these in to your baby's diet offer in very small quantities and not too frequently.
Healthier choices: plant-based alternatives to vegan meat include tofu & tempeh, lentils, beans, mushrooms and nuts/seeds. Fortified nutritional yeast flakes and home made cashew cheeses are a great ‘cheese’ alternative that contain minimal salt for your baby and can be enjoyed often.
It’s all about creating balance and setting a healthy foundation for your baby's eating habits. Integrating these low-salt strategies into your daily routine can be simple and effective. For example, while preparing a family meal, set aside a portion for your baby before adding any salt, or add the salt to your individual plate once you have served the meal (even better go zero salt for the whole family). This ensures that everyone enjoys the same family meal, cuts down on cooking a separate option for your little one and it is perfect to meet your baby’s needs.
The Role of Plant-Based Weaning in Salt Reduction
Plant-based weaning offers a wonderful opportunity to introduce a variety of natural, wholesome foods that are naturally low in salt. By focusing on whole foods, you're not only minimising salt intake but also providing a spectrum of nutrients essential for your baby's growth and development.
Why Variety is Key
Diversity in your baby’s diet is not only about flavours and textures but also about nutrition. Offering a range of fruits, vegetables, grains, and plant-based proteins ensures a well-rounded diet, reducing the need for added salt or processed foods.
Remember, the goal is to cultivate healthy eating habits from the start. By keeping salt to a minimum, you’re paving the way for a lifetime of healthy food choices.
NHS – Start4Life
British Nutrition Foundation: Introducing solid foods to your baby.
World Health Organisation - Sodium reduction