Updated: Jun 6
Have you wondered where the advice for salt comes from? is salt safe for babies, or when can you start to use salt in cooking? Here is what you need to know.
Sodium is a naturally occurring mineral found in breastmilk and foods such as eggs, meat, and vegetables. Sodium is an essential nutrient that our bodies need in small amounts. Sodium is used in the body for the conduction of nerve impulses, to contract and relax muscles, and maintain the proper balance of water and minerals. However, too much sodium in the diet can lead to chronic health issues, including high blood pressure which can increase the risk of heart disease or stroke.
Dietary sodium is consumed mostly as sodium chloride or ‘salt’ which contains both sodium and chloride.
In Australia and New Zealand, The Nutrient Reference Values (NRVs) are a joint initiative of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, and the New Zealand Ministry of Health (NZ MoH). They are a set of recommendations for nutritional intake based on currently available scientific knowledge.
In Australia and New Zealand, sodium recommendations for babies 0 – 3 years use Adequate Intake (AI) as a guide to appropriate sodium intake. There is limited evidence on an exact, requirement for sodium in infants. Additionally, an Upper Limit (UL) for toddlers has been set.
Daily Sodium Recommendations for Babies and Toddlers
Sodium recommendations change depending on the age of your baby.
For infants 0-6 months the AI for sodium is 120mg/day. NO SALT is required, as 100% of sodium requirements are met through breastmilk alone.
For infants 7-12 months the AI for sodium is 170mg/day. NO ADDED SALT is required. Sodium requirements can be easily met by sodium occurring naturally in food, and breastmilk, without any added salt. Sodium is naturally occurring in many foods like eggs, meat, and vegetables.
For toddlers 1 – 3 years of age the AI for sodium is 200-400mg/day with an Upper Limit of 1000mg/day
Most toddlers in Australia exceed the upper limit for sodium daily and eat way more sodium than their bodies need. Australian children aged two years and older eat an average of over 2,000 mg of sodium per day from an average of 5,500 mg of salt (5.5 g). About 80 % of this is estimated to come from processed foods (including cereal and cereal products and processed meat) and 20% from salt used at the table or in home cooking.
What does 1000mg of sodium look like for the Upper Limit of children 1-3 years of age?
1000 mg of sodium is equivalent to 2.5g of salt (around ½ a teaspoon of salt per day). Unfortunately, this can be hard to measure as most of the sodium that small children eat comes from processed or packaged foods, added by food manufacturers.
As an example a toddler eating:
Breakfast - 1 x Weetabix with 1/2 x cup of milk, 1 x small banana,
Morning tea - 2 x teaspoons of peanut butter, 20 g mini rice cakes
Lunch - 2 x slices of bread, 1 teaspoon of vegemite, 40g of cheddar cheese, 1 teaspoon of butter
Already provides an average of 1050mg of sodium, and is yet to include afternoon tea or dinner, or any added salt to a meal.
When can you add salt to your child’s meal?
For babies and toddlers, adding salt to food is unnecessary.
I recommend avoiding adding salt directly to your baby or toddler's plate of food.
If you are including your baby in family meals (which I strongly recommend) I would avoid adding salt during the cooking process, remove your baby's portion once cooked, and then add salt to your portion only if you wish.
Babies love big flavours so you can season meals with fresh herbs and spices instead.
Studies show that avoiding processed foods with high sodium and limiting added salt to foods during food introduction from 6-12 months may positively influence adaption and flavour preference to lower-sodium diets in children.
After 12 months of age, if you have prepared a large family meal and there has been a pinch of salt added during cooking, then this may be okay to include occasionally. However, bear in mind that most toddlers consume well over the upper limit for sodium daily even without any added salt to their meals.
What sodium levels do I look out for when buying packaged or supermarket foods?
Sodium can be found in higher amounts in packaged foods like bread, or cereals, and can also be found in higher amounts in processed foods like ham, deli meats, chips, crackers, bakery items, and takeaway foods.
Ideally, choose food products labeled low salt <120mg/100g or products that have
< 300 mg of sodium per 100g.
What about eating out with babies or toddlers?
Eating out and takeaway foods generally contain much higher amounts of sodium than homemade meals. If you are eating out with your baby or toddler ask the staff not to add salt to food, and avoid toppings like chicken salt, aioli, gravy, and tomato sauce which are all high in sodium.
Food examples that contain higher amounts of sodium
Sodium Content per 100g
Homemade gravy, no added salt
Homemade, no added salt
Tasty Cheddar Cheese
Roast meat or chicken
When can I introduce Vegemite or Promite?
I recommend waiting until after your child's first birthday before introducing Vegemite or Promite as the sodium content is super high. Use occasionally in small amounts.
Prioritise whole foods and fresh foods which contain less sodium than packaged or processed foods.
Avoid adding salt to your baby's food under 12 months of age and be mindful of sodium content in processed or packaged foods you may feed your baby.
You could add salt to homemade meals, and recipes for toddlers > 12 months of age, but be mindful that most toddlers exceed the upper limit of sodium daily.
Add flavour by using herbs and spices.
Dekkers DC, Sneider H, Van Den Oord EJ, Treiber FA. Moderators of blood pressure development from childhood to adulthood: a 10-year longitudinal study. J Pediatr 2002;141:770-9.
Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand 2006 VERSION 1.2
UPDATED SEPTEMBER 2017
Boorman, J., Cunningham, J. Mackerras, D. (2008). Salt intake from processed foods and discretionary salt use in Australia.
FSANZ (2015). How much sodium do Australians eat? Accessed 2022 https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/nutrition/
Strazzullo P, Campanozzi A, Avallone S. Does salt intake in the first two years of life affect the development of cardiovascular disorders in adulthood?. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2012;22(10):787–792. doi:10.1016/j.numecd.2012.04.003
Fewtrell et al Complementary Feeding: A Position Paper by the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) Committee on Nutrition(JPGN 2017;64: 119–132)
NHMRC 2012 Infant Feeding Guidelines Information for health workers.