Salt Intake in Babies

November 25, 2014

From the upcoming December issue of Food, Nutrition & Science, research suggests toddlers diets are too high in sodium.

More than half of very young children exceed the recommended amounts for daily sodium intake, according to a recent study from Deakin University in Australia and published in the October 2014 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The study set out to describe food sources and demographic and behavioral correlates of sodium intake in 295 young Australian children (9 to 18 months of age).

Researchers found that mean sodium intake was 486 mg at 9 months of age, but had more than doubled to 1,069 mg at 18 months of age. The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council has set an “Adequate Intake” of 460 to 920 mg of sodium per day. Fifty-four percent of 18-month olds in this study exceeded this upper limit number of 1,000 mg/day for sodium for 1- to 3-year olds.

These results suggest that children are gradually introduced to a diet of saltier foods as they transition from a diet of mostly formula, breast milk and cow’s milk to one that contains high-sodium diet staple items like bread, cheese, cereals, beans, crackers and soup. The reduction or elimination of breast or formula feeding was associated with an increase in both the amount and proportion of higher sodium foods consumed. Also, along those same lines, children with the highest sodium intakes at 9 months had ceased breastfeeding earlier and started solid foods earlier in life.

Interestingly, most government sodium regulation has focused on reducing sodium content in processed foods. Yet this study implies that common staples, like bread and cheese, are additionally contributing to the high sodium levels as children age – evidence that a call for sodium reduction across the board (and not just in processed foods) may be necessary. 

Product reformulation is indeed taking place in many countries, with the U.S., UK and Canada putting in place more than 80 voluntary sodium reduction targets. Australia, on the other hand, has fewer than 10 categories of food targeted for sodium reduction. The U.S. national data, meanwhile, shows mean sodium intakes are higher than those in Australia for young children, at 1,489 mg between 12 to 23 months of age.

Higher sodium intake during infancy and early childhood has been linked to blood pressure trajectories across life, as well as setting the stage for salt preferences later in life. Researchers say that future policy and health approaches should take into consideration the importance of reducing children’s sodium intakes because of the potential for lifelong harm.

“There is very little publicity about the importance of putting away the salt shaker and reading labels carefully. The Center for Disease Control should publicize that kind of message. In absence of a big campaign, consumers have to rely on companies, or even better, not wait for companies, and change their diet. Look for a pasta sauce or a breakfast cereal with lower sodium. Switch from packaged foods to fresh fruits and vegetables. Consumers need to make the change and the FDA needs to rattle the food industry’s cage with this,” adds Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of The Center for Science in Public Interest (CSPI).