Should We Take Salt, Sugar, and Fat out of Baby Meals?
The quick answer is not to add salt and sugar. Natural ingredients have enough sugar, salt, and fat. Fruit, milk and cereals naturally contain sugar. Meat, dairy, and seafood have more than enough salt. Meat, fish, dairy, and vegetables contain fat. You will eventually add salt or sugar as your baby grows, but delay it as much as possible. Fat is different though - babies need more fat to grow up!
Salt, Sugar and Fat ~12 months
Salt: Stay Away
Most references warn parents to be cautious of salt since a baby’s kidneys are not fully developed until 12 months [1,5]. Since processed foods like bread, protein rich food, and dairies contain salt, infants will get more than enough salt even if parents do their best not to give it to them [1,2].
Sugar: Go Natural
Babies have a natural tendency to like sweet flavors. Fruit and dairy contains lots of sugar, so it’s unlikely that babies will need any additional sugar. But natural sweetness in fruit can be used when you want to introduce bitter vegetables to babies . Sugar can also be found in processed foods. It is even present in fruit juices without any added sugar. Experts suggest not to give infants any fruit juice due to its association with long-term health outcomes for infants such as obesity [4,5]. The simple solution is to give them water instead.
Fat: Don’t Limit
Fat, especially Omega 3, is known to be very important for infants’ brain development. Fat usually takes up 25-50% of an infant’s daily calorie intake. Full-fat dairy products are recommended once a baby starts eating solids. Avocados, cheese, yogurt, and hummus are also popular options. Saturated fat and cholesterol don’t need to be restricted. Over time, the best fat is DHA, a type of Omega 3, found in fatty fish such as salmon and sardines, as well as legumes. The only fat you really need to avoid is Trans fat.
Salt, Sugar and Fat: ~ 12-24 months
Salt: Go easy
Toddlers at 24 months have an even stronger preference for salty food than adults do . Still, their system is not quite ready to take on a lot of salt . Avoid adding too much salt when cooking. Be cautious of food products that already contain lots of salt, especially ham and sausages. Delay offering them as much as possible, and build a habit of reading food labels to watch for high sodium levels.
Sugar: Go Natural
Sugar has a strong association with long-term health outcomes such as obesity. Other than naturally sweet fruits, there’s no need to offer babies any sugary food. Introducing sweet foods containing added sugar (e.g. donuts, soda,...) at an early age can also cause children to have a stronger preference for sweets later on .
Fat: Don’t Limit - Yet!
At this point, fat usually takes up 25-40% of an infant’s daily calorie intake. The same principles are applied for children under 2 years old. For over 2 years old you can choose low fat dairy options [4,5]. Still, giving enough fat to children is important, especially Omega 3. Opt for more fish, legumes and nuts.
Without Salt, Sugar and Fat – Will It Taste Good?
With no salt or sugar, food can taste bland. But baby taste buds are more sensitive than grown-ups. Let them enjoy the natural flavors of fresh ingredients. You can use herbs and spices as they grow up to increase the complexity of flavor.
- Beauchamp G, Mennella J. Flavor Perception in Human Infants: Development and Functional Significance. Digestion. 2011;83(suppl 1):1-6. DOI: 10.1159/000323397