Are you a salt savvy parent?

In today’s fast paced world where convenient snacks and instant meals are easily available to suit parents’ busy time tables, the detrimental consequence is that children are eating far too much salt without their moms and dads even being aware of it. As a parent, do you know how much salt your child is eating?

The effects of excess salt on your child’s health:

  • Increases blood pressure.
  • Causes calcium losses from bones leading to thin, fragile bones which for teenage girls could mean an increased risk of osteoporosis later in life.
  • Heightens thirst for sugary drinks which is known to contribute to overweight/obesity in the long run. Obesity is an increasing problem in SA - 17% of children between the ages of 1-9 years are either overweight or obese.

How much salt should children have?

Children are consuming as much or even more salt than adults, yet they need much less:


Maximum salt intake

Per day (g)

Maximum salt intake

Per day (tsp)

0-6 months



7-12 months



1-3 years



4-6 years



7-10 years



11+ years







From the table you can see that babies and children need very little salt! For children 11 years or older and for adults NO MORE than 6g (one teaspoon) a day is recommended. Remember that this is not only salt that is added from the salt cellar, but also includes salt that is hidden in foods. Around 75% of salt we eat is hidden in the foods that we buy!


“Breast is best” is a statement which cannot be repeated enough and breast milk provides the perfect nutrition for your baby with only a tiny bit of salt. For moms using formula milk, make sure that you follow the preparation instructions correctly so that baby gets milk that is not too concentrated and with just the right amount of salt.


From about 6 months of age your baby is ready to start with solids. Babies kidneys can’t cope with extra salt – so salt should never be added to any food that you cook for your baby! Avoid using adult breakfast cereals or processed foods which can be high in added salt and stick to foods which are made specifically for babies. You may find that these foods taste bland, but your baby does not know the difference and his/her tiny organs are nowhere near able to fully digest or excrete excess sodium that is found in these products.

From toddlers to school age and teens:

Once your child is eating the same foods as the rest of the family make sure that you still don’t add any salt to their food. Every child is an individual but most will find independence around the ages of 2 to 3 years – so store the salt pot and sauces away from reach. During the toddler and teen years salty foods such as crisps, chips and take away foods such as chicken nuggets, pizza and burgers become popular – try to limit these as much as possible. Other products containing large amounts of salt are processed meats, viennas and many canned foods and so shouldn’t be regular items on the grocery list. Encourage your children from a young age to help choose and prepare fresh food items. A low salt diet throughout childhood will prevent children from developing a taste for salty foods later on in life.

Understanding food labels:

Another good habit to put into practice as a parent is to compare different products’ salt content in the supermarket by reading their relevant nutrition labels. Look out for the amount of sodium (Na) that the food item contains and simply multiply this number by 2.5 to calculate the amount of salt.

In the nutritional label below:

470mg of sodium (Na) x 2.5 = 1175 mg of salt, so this muffin contains 1.175g of salt – almost a quarter of a teaspoon!


Use this as a general rule when choosing foods containing salt:

  • More than 1.5g per 100g are HIGH in salt – avoid these!
  • Less than 0.3g per 100g are LOW in salt – choose these more often!

How much salt is your child eating?

Just to show you how quickly your child’s salt intake can add up, have a look at a typical day’s intake for a child aged between 7 and 10 years:


Portion size

Salt per portion (g)


Breakfast cereal (puffed rice/corn flakes) with

low fat milk

1 small bowl (+25g)


½ cup (125ml)




Fruit juice

½ cup (125ml)




1 small packet (+30g)



1 medium fruit



Ham and cheddar cheese sandwich

2 slices brown bread with margarine (+10g), cheddar cheese (+15g) and 1 slice ham (+25g)


Flavoured drinking yoghurt

+350ml portion



Instant noodles

1 small packet (+73g)



Fish fingers and

chips with

tomato sauce

4 fish fingers

1 handful of chips

2 tablespoons (+50ml)




Hot chocolate and


3-4 heaped teaspoons mixed with water only

2 biscuits (+10g each)





8.84 grams


On a diet such as this one, your child could be taking in 8.84 grams (almost 1½ tsp) of salt on a daily basis (nearly double the 5g that is recommended) - frightening if you consider that this means over 100 extra grams of salt every month and over 1000 extra grams per year! In the long run this will contribute to increasing his/her risk of developing heart disease or stroke.

What does the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA advise?

Take control of your family’s health by making lower salt choices.

To avoid:

The obvious culprits in a typical high salt diet are commercially prepared products such as instant noodles or chips. Another high salt food to avoid is a ham and cheese sandwich. Some brands of bread and margarine are high in salt, so choosing lower salt ones is recommended.

To consume:

Tuna, fresh chicken or egg mayonnaise with lots of fresh salad are excellent sandwich fillers. Swap crisps and instant noodles for snacks like fruit salads and veggie sticks all prepared with moms natural touch. Moms - also remember to choose foods with the little heart logo, the Heart Mark, as these products have less salt compared to other products. (This includes a wide range of products including bread, cereals, margarine, tinned foods and cheese to hame a few). See the Heart Mark website for a full list of heart smart choices.

Becoming salt savvy is as easy as ABC…so start today!

For more information visit

 - (Health24, updated March 2011)

Read more:

Slideshow: 10 salty food culprits
Salt: the slow silent killer
The parent's guide to food labels

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