Thursday, May 2, 2013

What is Sodium, Really? 什么是纳?

Last week I wrote a post about feeding cheese to baby and had received quite some feedback about the post, hence this is a sequel to the post. You may read more about it here.

Now, What is Sodium?

Sodium exists in salt and is essential to maintain the fluid level in our body and providing channels for nerve signaling. Deficiency of sodium is rare but over-consumption of sodium is common due to the modern diet. Young infant needs very little sodium in their diet because breast milk and formula milk alone provides sufficient sodium for a 12 month old's daily sodium intake requirements, hence it is really not necessary to add extra salt into the little one's diet.

According to the 2012 publication by UK Food Agency, Feeding Your Baby In the First Year, it was mentioned where:

Don’t add any salt to the foods you give your baby because a young baby’s kidneys can’t cope with it. Some foods, such as cheese, sausages and bacon, are high in salt, so remember to limit how much of these foods you let your baby eat.

Baby foods aren’t allowed to contain added salt. But any foods you buy that aren’t aimed at babies, especially sauces and ready-made porridge, can often be high in salt, so also limit how much of these you let your baby eat and remember to check the label. 

It’s best not to encourage a liking for salt at any age, so when you’re cooking for the family,  leave out the salt so your baby can share the food.

For first time parents, I would encourage you to read the publication as it has rather comprehensive information on baby's first food that I find quite informative.

What is so Bad About Sodium, really?

Baby's daily sodium requirement is very low - up to 1g salt or 0.4g of sodium a day, which can be met through drinking breast milk or formula milk.

Babies's kidneys are not mature enough to handle excessive salt, among the potential side effect of excessive salt / sodium include:

  • the risk of kidney damage in long run
  • may lead to high blood pressure in later life
  • introducing salt in baby's early food also indirectly training their palate to saltier flavors, which has no added benefit at all.

How Much Daily Sodium Consumption is Consider Enough?

According to NSH UK, the maximum recommended amount of salt for babies and children is:

up to 12 months – less than 1g salt a day (less than 0.4g sodium)
1 to 3 years – 2g salt a day (0.8g sodium)
4 to 6 years – 3g salt a day (1.2g sodium)
7 to 10 years – 5g salt a day (2g sodium)
11 years and over – 6g salt a day (2.4g sodium)

Note: 0.1g = 100mg

As a general guide according to Baby Center:
  • any food containing more than 0.6g of sodium per 100g is considered to be high in salt.
  • any food containing less than 0.1g of sodium per 100g is considered to be low salt level.

 Since I posted about cheese last week, let's use cheese as example for comparison.

Option 1
Based on nutrition information below. 1 slice of cheese (23g) contains 150mg / 6% of sodium. Assuming your little one is 4 years old where the max daily sodium intake is 1200mg, offering 1 slice of the cheese should be considered acceptable, as it only takes up about 10% of total daily requirements.

Option 1: Slice Cheese

Option 2
Comparing to this one, where 1 slice of cheese (21g) contains 320mg / 13% of sodium, consuming 1 slice is already meeting 1/4 of a 4 year old's daily sodium consumption. Assuming you serve it with cured meat or ham which contains around 200mg of sodium per slice, the little one would have consumed nearly 520mg or 45% of his daily sodium need in 1 single meal.

Option 2: Slice Cheese

Considering its calcium content is also considerably lower than the Option 1 (8% Calcium vs 15% Calcium per slice), my personal choice will be to go for the Option 1.

According to, these are among the top 10 food with highest sodium content:

  1. Table salt, Baking soda and Baking powder
  2. Bouillon (stock) cubes, Powdered Broths, Soups, and Gravies
  3. Soy Sauce, Other Sauces, and Salad Dressings
  4. Yeast Extract Spread (Marmite)
  5. Salami, Bacon, and Cured Meats
  6. Sun dried tomatoes
  7. Cheese
  8. Snack Foods (Pretzels, Cheese Puffs, and Popcorn)
  9. Pickled foods
  10. Salt water crabs

From the list of these food, one common point is they are either processed or preserved food, hence addition of sugar or salt does not come as surprise. However, it does not mean you have to cut down consumption of these food altogether, just serve them in smaller quantities and reduce the frequency.

You may want refer to the website for more nutrition information about these 10 types of food.

So, what is the right thing to do?

  • When introducing solid food to babies, do not add salt or sugar into the food. 
  • Avoid offering adult food or processed food to young babies; even for baby food purchased over the shelf, always check the nutrition facts and choose wisely.
  • Avoid salty snacks such as chips, biscuits, sauces etc. Instead try to opt for healthy finger food such as fruits, fresh vegetable sticks, low salt baby food where possible.
  • Home cook food using fresh ingredient is the best option as you know exactly what your babies eat and most importantly, you can be assured that no junks is given.
  • Avoid adding ready packed gravy or thick sauce into toddler's food (or give sparingly if you must), as you are offering extra fat, salt and sugar into their diet which is not necessary.

For the long term benefit of the little ones, do have a mindset change and if possible, share with the care-taker or nanny so they understand why they should refrain from adding salt or sugar into the little one's meal.

While doing my reading on all the nutrition facts I started to revise the food that we consume daily, I'm glad that I had chosen to serve home-cook meal for my little ones as often as possible. I am not a strict dietitian as I do believe life need some enjoyment and indulgence of delicious food, however I do believe as parents we can do our part to encourage healthy eating in the family.

Hope you find this post helpful, till the next post, Happy Labour's Day! :)

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