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Salt and sugar are used as flavour enhancers in our food, but excessive consumption of both salt and sugar can lead to serious health problems in adults and children. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), adults should limit salt consumption to ¾ and one teaspoon per day. Sugar consumption should be limited to 6 teaspoons a day. Salt and sugar should be avoided for babies as excessive consumption is harmful and can cause problems such as impaired kidney function, tooth decay, decreased immunity, etc.
What Is the Daily Requirement of Salt and Sugar in a Baby’s Diet?
According to various health organisations, infants should not be given any salt until six months of age. Their sodium needs are met by the salt contained in breast milk. Babies aged between 6 months to 1 year should be given no more than 1 gram of salt per day, which contains 0.4 grams of sodium. The salt intake of toddlers aged between 1 and 3 years should be limited to 2 grams per day and children aged 4 to 6 years should consume no more than 3 grams of salt per day.
Babies do not need added sugars or refined sugar in their diet. The sugar requirements of the baby can be met by foods rich in carbohydrates and other naturally sweet foods, such as fruits.
Why Should You Avoid Sugar and Salt in Your Infant’s Diet?
Here are the reasons why you should avoid including salt and refined sugar in your baby’s diet:
1. Affects Kidney Function: Excessive salt intake can impair kidney function as the infant’s kidneys cannot process and eliminate high levels of salt from the blood. This strains the kidneys and can cause kidney-related diseases at a later stage.
2. Causes Kidney Stones: Excess sodium from salt can also cause the body to excrete more calcium in the urine. This calcium can form kidney stones. Kidney stones cause symptoms such as severe pain in the body, fever and chills, nausea and vomiting, burning sensation while urinating, and blood in the urine.
3. High Blood Pressure: Excess salt intake can cause high blood pressure or hypertension. Babies who consume too much salt can develop hypertension as adults.
4. The Danger of Dehydration: Babies who have excess salt in their bodies are in danger of dehydration, as salt causes the body to lose water in the form of urine and sweat. Infants will not be able to indicate that they are thirsty, and adults may not realise that they are dehydrated until serious symptoms show up. Dehydration can result in kidney stones, joint and muscle damage, constipation, and liver damage.
5. Brittle Bones: Too much salt consumption causes increased sodium levels in the body. This, in turn, causes excretion of too much calcium. Thus, the body loses calcium, which is essential for the development of strong bones. Calcium depletion can lead to a condition called osteoporosis which makes the bones thin and brittle.
6. Tooth Decay: Consuming excessive amounts of added sugars can cause painful cavities and tooth decay. Bacteria in the mouth use sugar from foods to produce acids that damage the teeth.
7. Obesity: Too much sugar in the diet means more calories. Even in an active baby, this could result in a lot of unused calories which get converted to fat and stored in the body. Obesity or having excess body fat is very unhealthy for a baby.
8. Diabetes: Eating too much sugar can lead to type 2 diabetes later in life. Diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels.
9. Lethargy: High blood sugar levels can result in the overproduction of the hormone called insulin which regulates blood sugar levels. Too much insulin can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar levels, leading to lethargy, inactivity, and tiredness in the baby.
10. Hyperactivity: Since sugar is absorbed into the blood very quickly, high sugar consumption causes the blood sugar levels to shoot up. This leads to higher adrenaline levels and causes hyperactivity in children.
11. Poor Dietary Habits: Consuming excess salt and sugar as a baby leads to a pattern of poor dietary choices later in life. This, in turn, causes lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.
12. Rejecting Breast Milk: If babies begin to like the taste of salt and sugar, they may avoid or reject breast milk. This is detrimental to the growing baby, as breast milk contains several vital nutrients essential for the baby’s growth and development.
13. Will Not Know the Real Taste of Vegetables: If the baby’s food contains too much salt or sugar, it will mask the original taste of the vegetables. The baby will start disliking the taste of vegetables if it is not masked by too much salt or sugar.
Tips for Introducing Solid Foods to Your Baby
- Introduce one food at a time so that you can easily spot allergic reactions in your baby. Wait for two-three days between offering different types of food.
- Puree everything so that your baby can eat the food easily. As he grows older, you can give him solid food in small pieces but keep an eye out for foods like uncooked peas, firm fruits and vegetables, nuts, etc. as they can make him choke.
- Avoid using silverware and use spoons made of plastic or silicone as they will be better for the baby’s tender gums.
- Don’t try to overfeed the baby. When the baby stops enjoying the food or avoids eating, you should stop feeding him.
Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about salt and sugar intake in babies:
1. How will your baby get sodium if you completely avoid salt?
The baby’s sodium needs are met by breast milk for the first six months. Apart from this, most foods naturally contain sodium. So the baby’s salt intake should be less than 1 gram per day for the first year.
2. How can you add flavour to the infant’s food without adding salt?
Foods can be made flavourful without the addition of salt. Spices such as cumin powder, asafoetida, cinnamon, and herbs like coriander and mint can flavour the food and enhance the taste. You can also flavour the food using onion and garlic. However, spices must be added in minute quantities, and new foods should be introduced slowly (1 tablespoon on the first day, two the next, and so on) to make sure there are no allergic reactions. Herbs must be thoroughly washed and finely chopped or minced. They should be introduced into the baby’s diet only after seven months of age.
3. What are the substitutes of sugar for baby food?
There are plenty of naturally sweet substances that can be used as sugar substitutes. These include any fruit puree, date syrup, and honey. However, date syrup and honey should not be given to infants below 1year of age.
4. Will my baby eat bland food without salt? What if he does not like it?
Adults cannot eat bland food without salt as they are used to eating food rich in a variety of flavours. A baby has never tasted salt and will therefore not feel that the food is bland. In case the baby does not seem to like the food, you can try to enhance the taste using flavour enhancing spices like cumin, cinnamon or asafoetida, herbs like mint or coriander, and garlic or onion.
5. When do I start adding salt and sugar in baby’s food?
You need not give a baby salt until one year of age. If you do want to introduce salt, limit it to less than 1 gram per day for babies older than six months. However, it is better to avoid salt for babies under one year of age. Giving sugar to infants less than one year of age is not recommended. Baby foods do not require added sugars. You can use natural sugar substitutes like fruit puree, date syrup or honey. Even fruit juices given to babies must be diluted to reduce the sugar content.
Salt and sugar can do more harm than good for babies. Hence, it is better to avoid them at least until the baby turns one year old. Processed foods should also not be given to babies as they contain high amounts of salt. Many commercial baby foods may also contain added sugars. Check the ingredients carefully to determine the salt and sugar content if you use commercial baby food. Keep your baby healthy by giving homemade food without added salt or sugar.
Resources & References: Parents,What to Expect