Salt and Sugar: How good are these for my baby?

Salt and Sugar: How good are these for my baby?

Introducing solid food to infants’ around 6 months of age is an exciting period for both mother and the baby. While the little bundle of joy gets a taste of different foods, the mother is busy exploring different food ideas to introduce her little one. Soups, mashed or pureed vegetables, khichdi, fruits like apple, banana, juices, etc. are commonly offered to babies around that age. However, a common apprehension in the minds of most mothers is whether they should include salt or sugar in their baby’s diet? Let’s understand a little more about that.

Introducing salt and sugar to your baby’s diet

Until 6 months of age, your baby requires only breast milk or formula milk. Post that, introducing complementary foods to his or her diet becomes essential so that all nutritional needs are met. Complementary feeding is a gradual process and demands intensive care and planning. Your baby is just getting used to eating and just needs a few spoons of liquid and soft food (single ingredient) like Apple stew lentil soup etc. This is because the baby is new to swallowing. As your baby gets used to this you can then give items which are a mix of two or more ingredients like vegetable soup, kheer, khichdi etc.

And that is when the big question comes up. Should you add salt or sugar to your baby’s food? Now before we get to this question let’s first understand why we feel the need to add salt or sugar to baby’s diet in the first place? Salt or sugar are considered a flavouring agent and are known to enhance the flavour of the dish. When we begin to give solid food to babies we need to keep in mind the fact that it is the baby’s first exposure to tastes. He may not like it at first, turn his head to other side or simply spit it out. A quick conclusion Indian mothers or carers come to is that the baby does not like the taste because the food is bland or tasteless and therefore they proceed to add a pinch of salt or sugar to enhance the flavour.

The NHS recommends against it. Babies need a very small amount of salt in their diet. Not more than 1g salt a day (i.e. less than 0.4 g sodium) until 1 year. This requirement is easily fulfilled by breast milk or formula milk. So there is absolutely no need to add salt or sugar to the food. Adding salt to the food will only put extra pressure on baby’s kidneys. Remember his biological functions are still developing and so are his organs.

As far as sugar is considered, doctors warn against artificial sweeteners or refined sugar as they are refined by chemical processes, which may be high for harmful for infants. Rock sugar commonly known as ‘mishri ‘ in India may be used occasionally in kheer etc but only in very small quantities. Excess sugar is harmful for babies and can lead to problems like tooth decay, and lifestyle problems later in life like diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, etc. You can use natural sweeteners like raisins, date syrup (after 8 months) or honey (after 1 year). Try getting your baby accustomed to simple and natural flavours.

The right time for salt and sugar

Salt and sugar tend to mask the natural or original flavour and, therefore, an early introduction to salt and sugar may get your child hooked to these and this can lead to fussy eating behaviour later on. Avoid salt or sugar until 1 year or even later. There are loads of other recipes you can try which don’t need any artificial flavour enhancers.

Here are some simple baby food recipes you can try to give your little one some variety:-

Apple Stew – Simply cook the apple slices in ¼ cup of water in a pan. Once the apples are slightly tender, take them out and blend them in a mixer. The dish is ready! Apple is naturally sweet so you don’t have to worry about adding any additional flavour. What’s more, the fruit is power-packed with nutrients which will benefit your little one.

Mashed Banana – Rich in potassium and fibre, bananas are another healthy food option for your tiny tot. Add a teaspoon of milk to the mashed banana so it makes a smooth paste.

Vegetable Soup – Combine vegetables like potato, carrots, beetroot and a teaspoon of moong dal and prepare a soup. This will make a great mid-day meal for your baby!

Vegetable Puree – Add carrots, potato and other seasonal vegetable like spinach, bring them to a boil and make a puree. Carrots are naturally sweet and potatoes have distinct flavour too so there is no need to add any salt.

Khichdi – You can introduce khichdi to your baby’s diet after 8 months of age when he is comfortable eating vegetable soup, lentils, puree etc. Combine rice, dal and vegetables like carrot and potato and cook them in a pressure cooker (don’t add salt). Check the consistency before feeding.

That’s it! You see you don’t have to be a master chef to prepare nutritious meals for your little one. Give them these and watch your little one relish flavours and develop a taste of different foods. After all the food choices you make for little one now will go a long way in inculcating healthy eating habit later in life.