From our Neonatal Nutritionist: Why No Added Sugar or Salt Matters
When starting your baby out on solid food, it can be an exciting adventure and you may want to jazz it up. However, it's important to not add sugar or salt to your little one's meals while they are exploring food for the first time and shaping their taste preferences for the future! While you may think it tastes bland, babies don’t know any different, and need this time to explore and develop a taste for healthy foods. Adding salt and sugar to food can predispose babies to wanting salty and sugary foods in the future, which can affect their long term health.
This is especially important with sugar as excess consumption in child and adulthood is linked to an increased risk for developing obesity, diabetes, and other health conditions. For this reason organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend no added sugar to foods or drinks in the first two years of life. Now these recommendations include foods with added sugars such as those found in sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and fruit juice concentrates to name a few. Fruit juice should also not be given in the first year of life according to the AAP, even if its 100% fruit juice. Now giving fruit is OK and encouraged, even though it contains natural sugars, it also contains fiber which helps the body absorb the sugar in a slower more healthy way. Fruits are also loaded with vitamins and antioxidants that are important for their health, growth, and development!
Aside from shaping taste preferences, another reason why adding salt for infants is not recommended is that their needs for salt in the first year of life are very low, about 400mg per day. Babies meet most of this requirement through breast milk and formula, and make up the rest through sodium that occurs naturally in food. Giving excess sodium by adding salt to foods or giving foods that have salt added to them can be too much for their immature kidneys to process.
Now while you can’t add salt or sugar to foods, you can definitely add various spices to food! It's wonderful for babies to be exposed to spices and a variety of textures and flavors in the first two years of their life, so they learn to accept a variety of foods and flavors as they grow up into childhood and adulthood.
Bottom Line: Avoid any added salt or sugar until after 2 years of age. Instead, experiment with other spices to encourage lifelong adventurous eating!
Priscilla Barr, MS, RDN, Neonatal Nutritionist, NYU Langone & Tiny's Nutritional Advisor