Even babies get too much sodium

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: November 22nd, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Doctors have long been saying that we eat too much salt, which contributes to heart disease and hypertension. And a new study suggests our love affair with sodium starts early in our lives. Really early.

Call it a health epidemic of mini proportions: According to a British study, as many as 70 percent of 8-month-old babies in the United Kingdom get too much salt.

The researchers looked at the diets of nearly twelve-hundred eight-month-old British infants. The babies and their families were all enrolled in a long-term health survey conducted in the Bath and Bristol regions of the United Kingdom.

The researchers examined food diaries the mothers kept for three days. They found most babies took in more than 400 milligrams of sodium per day, the maximum daily intake recommended under U.K. guidelines. Some of the babies got more than twice the amount.

The researchers determined there were a couple of contributing factors. First, parents didn’t always make the best choices when introducing solid foods to their children. The infants in the study who recorded the highest sodium levels ate canned spaghetti, baked beans and other highly processed food.

Next, many of the babies were drinking cow’s milk, which is higher in sodium than either formula or breast milk.

Although it sounds easy, the researchers say making good choices for infants can be deceptively tricky. Many foods have unexpectedly high levels of salt. And once children get a taste for salt, it can be difficult to regulate the amount they get because many foods are loaded with the stuff.

Researchers are urging the food industry to cut sodium levels across the board. Until that happens, there’s not much a parent can do except avoid processed foods and be a vigilant reader of food labels.