The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Are Baby and Toddler Foods Healthier Than Their Adult Equivalents? PART 2 - Sodium

Posted in
Eat better

Friday, Jul 16, 2010

If you read last week's blog you learned that prepared baby and toddler foods are often high in sugar, particularly added sugar. And as previously mentioned, because infancy and toddlerhood is a critical time period for forming taste preferences and possibly preventing future disease, the need for caretakers to take steps to limit these products is high.

This week, we're revealing the findings on SODIUM content of baby and toddler foods from the same research study (see last week's blog for information on what products were analyzed).1

As we did with sugar, let's start with the sodium recommendations. The American Academy of Pediatrics and The American Heart Association recommend that children ages 1-3 consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day; 4-8 consume no more than 1,900 mg of sodium per day; 9-13 consume no more than 2,200 mg of sodium per day; and 14-18 consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. The American Dietetic Association recommends even less at 1,200 mg/day or less for 4-8 year-olds and 1,500 mg/day or less for older children. Thus, toddlers should clearly be consuming less than 1,200 to 1,500 mg of sodium per day - about 3.8 grams of salt or 2/3 teaspoon of table salt.

So what did the researchers find? Over 12 percent of toddler products analyzed contain more than 130 mg of sodium per serving. Sixteen products contain more than 260 mg of sodium per serving. And 11 products contain over 400 mg of sodium per serving. Toddler entrees/dinners topped the 'high-sodium' list with some products exceeding 500 mg of sodium per serving - 1/2 to 1/3 of their daily limit.

And similar to what was found with sugar, sodium levels in baby/toddler products are not always nutritionally superior (less sodium) than adult products. One such case is yogurt where the amount of sodium was less in the comparable adult product.

Thus, while not quite as problematic as sugar, researchers found sodium levels in toddler products to be higher than expected. And therefore, the recommendation given at the end of the last week's blog on sugar also applies here:

Parents need to carefully select the foods they serve their babies and toddlers. Products marketed toward this age group are not necessarily healthy and oftentimes are quite the opposite. So what's the busy parent to do? Read food labels, in particular the Nutrition Facts panel of the food label where sodium is listed, and purchase as many whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, pastas, cereals, and lean meat, eggs, and beans. The more "whole" a product is, the less processed it is and less potential for additives like sodium and sugar. 

1Elliott, C.D. (2010). Sweet and salty: nutritional content and analysis of baby and toddler foods. Journal of Public Health, Advance Access, doi: 10.1093, pp.1-8.