Salt intake for toddlers

How Much Salt Should Your Toddler Eat?

Salt is painted as a villain in the media, but it’s actually essential for your health. However, too much salt is just as bad as too little; how much should your toddler be eating?

Table salt has two components, chloride and sodium. These two chemical elements are naturally occurring, and you need them to function. They perform a number of tasks in the body:

  • Chloride is part of the acid makeup in your stomach. This is called hydrochloric acid and it helps to digest food and kill bad bacteria.
  • Sodium regulates fluid outside the cells
  • Sodium helps to maintain electrolyte balance (which is why when you sweat a lot, you need electrolytes in your water, to replace lost salts)
  • Sodium is the messenger for cell signals and transport

In adults, too much sodium a day (more than 2.3 grams a day) is linked to cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Liking salty foods starts early in life, so what you feed your child as a toddler may help to change their health outcomes in later life.

Depending on what part of the world you live in and the food preferences of your family, your sodium intake will be different. Sodium occurs naturally in dairy, seafood and meat, but in tiny quantities in vegetables and fruit. Fast food is packed full of sodium, as it helps to add flavour; almost any pre-made meal and crackers, crisps and sauces can sneakily add unwanted sodium in your diet.

How Much Salt Should Your Toddler Eat?

If you Google this, the results can strike fear into any parent’s heart. It’s common to see comments such as ‘An infant should not eat any added salt, as their kidneys are not yet mature and cannot excrete excess salt’. This sounds alarming, but it also doesn’t provide any reasonable guidelines.

Salt, unlike many minerals, has no recommended daily intake levels. There are amounts that are considered adequate, but that’s the minimum amount required to keep a small human functioning correctly. There is an upper limit for kids from one year old, but nothing below that as it’s expected that sodium will be primarily ingested via breast milk, formula, or whole foods.

For babies from 0 to 12 months, breast milk contains about 160mg of sodium per litre and the amount eaten equals the accepted level of intake. At 12 months, a baby’s kidneys have matured to be equal to adults, and the recommend sodium levels have been calculated from those adequate intake levels of an adult (accounting for body weight).

Zero to six months: 120mg is considered adequate, and no upper limit can be set.

Seven to twelve months: 170mg per day is adequate, with no upper limit set.

One to three years: 200-400 mg a day is considered adequate, with an upper limit of 1000mg per day

How Much Salt Does That Mean in Real Life?

One gram of salt contains 390mg of sodium. That’s about one pinch of salt. 1000mg, the upper limit for toddlers, is about half a teaspoons worth.

Breastfed babies, those on formula, or kids that drink Mims Milk don’t need to worry. Everything is set to ensure your child only eats what is needed. Then, as a toddler, the consumption of mainly whole foods means there’s no risk of too much sodium.

The risk is from processed foods. Tomato sauce, fast food, chips, crackers, and commercial bread can often hide vast amounts of sodium. Avoid these and you can ensure a healthy diet with acceptable levels of sodium.