Yes. Babies can have some salt in their diets, because sodium is needed for a baby’s normal growth and development (salt consists of sodium and chloride). However recommended levels of sodium intake vary slightly by country. In the United States, Adequate Intake levels (AI), instead of a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), are established for sodium for different age groups.* So the AI levels for sodium are 0.12 grams (equivalent to 0.3 grams salt) a day for babies 0-6 months, 0.37 grams sodium daily (i.e., 0.93 grams salt) for 7-12 months and 1 gram per day of sodium (i.e., 2.5 grams salt/day) for those from 1-3 years of age. In the United Kingdom, on the other hand, babies under 1 year of age are actually allowed up to 1 gram of salt daily, and then up to 2 grams of salt daily between 1-3 years of age. Since one teaspoon of salt contains approximately 2.3 grams of sodium, the recommended levels in the UK would range from about 1/5 teaspoon (for those under a year) to 1/3 teaspoon of salt daily (for 1-3 year olds).
So yes, you can now sigh with relief that your baby is allowed some salt in the diet. But before you panic because these recommended levels seem like such tiny minuscule amounts, let me explain a few things. First, there’s no need to be fanatic about removing every single trace of salt from your baby’s diet, simply because you won’t be able to—at least not after baby begins solids. Almost everything has some sodium in it, even fresh fruits, vegetables and healthy foods like broccoli, avocado, milk, cereals and bread! Second, be assured that if you prepare baby foods mainly from a range of fresh ingredients (frozen vegetables and fruit are also alternative options), then even if you do give baby some commercially processed items, your baby’s salt intake overall will still remain relatively low and under the recommended levels.
Here are a few other easy ways to minimize your baby’s salt intake:
- Choose mostly home prepared foods over restaurant/store bought/commercially prepared foods which will tend to be higher in salt.
- Be aware of hidden sources of salt: Some processed foods contain quite a bit of salt! Examples are tomato sauces, cottage cheese, canned soups, cheeses or canned fish in brine.
- Shop smart—if you are buying commercial products, choose ‘no salt’, ‘no salt added’ or ‘low sodium’ versions. Otherwise, try to choose items where salt is the last item listed in the ingredient list on the packaging. When buying tinned fish, choose products canned in spring water (and not brine or tomato sauce). For canned beans, choose ‘no salt added’ versions or canned beans with salt as the last ingredient in the list and rinse the beans thoroughly a few times in water before cooking them.
*An Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is a derived average daily intake level sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (meaning 97-98%) healthy individuals in a group. If enough scientific evidence is not available to derive an RDA, an AI is then usually developed. According to a Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, “For healthy breastfed infants, an AI is the mean intake. The AI for other life stage and gender groups is believed to cover the needs of all healthy individuals in the groups, but lack of data or uncertainty in the data prevent being able to specify with confidence the percentage of individuals covered by this intake.” (http://iom.edu/Activities/Nutrition/SummaryDRIs/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRIs/RDA%20and%20AIs_Vitamin%20and%20Elements.pdf)