Children need some salt in their diet for healthy nerves and muscles but too much salt can increase their risk of health problems. There are a few simple ways to help to reduce your child’s salt intake.
What is salt?
Salt is made up of the elements sodium and chloride — which are both essential for proper cell function in our body. We only need a small amount of salt for good health. Children in Australia now consume more salt than is recommended.
Problems caused by salt
Too much salt can cause health problems in people of any age, including young children. For example, excess salt increases the risk of respiratory problems, including asthma. It can also increase the risk of osteoporosis and high blood pressure later in life.
Salt also increases thirst. If you satisfy that thirst with sugary drinks, it can increase the risk of gaining too much weight.
Foods that provide salt
About 80% of the salt you eat comes from salt in processed foods. About 20% is added in cooking and at the table. But you get as much sodium as you need from foods like milk, yoghurt, eggs, meat, fish and poultry. There is no need to add salt to babies’ food.
Tips to cut back on salt
- Check the nutrition information panel on food labels. Try to choose foods with less than 120mg sodium/100g. If salt is an unavoidable part of a food — like bread — choose those with less than 400mg sodium/100g.
- Use fresh chicken, beef, lamb or pork rather than processed meats like ham, salami, bacon and frankfurts.
- Avoid salty snacks like potato crisps, chips and salted crackers. Better snack foods are fresh fruit or corn kernels popped in a little oil. Avoid packaged popping corn — it’s very salty.
- Make porridge from rolled oats or choose breakfast cereals marked as ‘low salt’ (which means they have less than 120mg sodium/100g). The sugar in some breakfast cereals masks their high salt content.
- Make your own soups, stock, sauces and salad dressings. Most packaged ones are high in salt.
- Choose canned tomatoes, chick peas, corn and fish marked ‘no added salt’.
- Steam vegetables to keep their flavour and nutrients. Don’t add salt in cooking or at the table.
- For extra flavour, use fresh or dried herbs, lemon or lime juice, fresh ginger, garlic and balsamic or other vinegars.
- Avoid fast food as much as possible.
Different types of salt
There are many varieties of salt, including sea salt, rock salt, Celtic salt, vegetable salt, pink salt and chicken salt. All these products are basically salt. If anybody claims they’re ‘good for you’, they’re wrong. Any minerals they have are in such tiny quantities they won’t help.
Iodised salt is important in some areas of the world where iodine deficiency is common.
In Australia, salt used in making bread must be iodised and this provides enough iodine to meet almost all children’s needs.
You can find out how much sodium is in a range of packaged and take-away foods at Food Standards Australia New Zealand.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: March 2020