Sugar, salt & spices

Why can’t I salt my baby’s food?

The human body needs sodium but cannot produce it, so a little sodium in the form of salt is necessary for life. However, most people consume more than they need, and a baby’s salt needs in particular are extremely small: Up to the age of 12 months, he should consume less than 1g per day – your baby gets this amount from his breastmilk or formula.

Too much more salt can do damage to his tiny, immature kidneys and has even been known to be fatal. There is also research which shows that consuming a lot of salt in early childhood could lead to problems later in life, such as high blood pressure and stroke.

The important thing to remember is that your taste buds do adjust to salt, and that your baby has no idea what salt tastes like and is therefore not missing it. There are many things you can do to make a baby’s food more interesting, such as adding herbs and spices and even garlic.

Why can’t I give my baby sugar?

There is no immediate safety reason to avoid sugar, however there are many reasons not to offer it to babies and children. Refined sugar has no nutritional benefit, and consuming it means consuming empty calories. The first few years of life determine your children’s taste buds for a lifetime and it is best to avoid them developing a lifelong taste for sugary products, which can lead to weight problems and obesity.

In addition, there is the question of energy. The problem with sugar is its effect on the blood sugar. When we eat so-called high-glycaemic load (GI/GL) foods, including sugar and fast carbohydrates such as white bread, cornflakes and chocolate, the body breaks them down rapidly, causing a fast spike in blood sugar.

Contrast this with less processed foods and slow carbohydrates such as Bircher muesli or wholemeal pasta which release sugar into the bloodstream much more slowly. When the blood sugar rises quickly, the pancreas answers by releasing insulin, thereby causing a rapid drop in blood sugar which leaves you feeling sluggish and lacking energy. It is wiser to eat food that is low on the GI index, or combine it with a lower GI food to offset this effect.

Which sweeteners are suitable for baby food?

It is not recommended to add any artificial sweeteners or sugar to a young baby’s food. In fact you could have your baby eat tart foods when he is small so that his taste buds do not get too used to sweet foods. If you wish to add sweetener, a little date water (soak dates in water overnight, then set aside dates for use in other recipes) or maple syrup is the best thing to use.

Maple syrup is preferred over honey (note: do not give honey to children under the age of one because of the risk of botulism) because it does not elevate the blood sugar as honey does, nor does it contain botulism spores. Other ideas include apricots, raisins and grated fruits like apple or pear. These can be added to yogurts, cereals and even savoury dishes (putting grated apple into vegetable dishes often works a treat!).

Can I put herbs in my baby’s food?

Yes! Your baby will love herbs and so long as they are mild (sweet basil, chives, parsley) you can put them in your baby’s food from early on. Perhaps not as a first food, when your baby is just getting used to eating. But certainly as soon as your baby has tried a few different foods, you can start adding in herbs to increase the flavour.

Can I use spices in my baby’s food?

Yes, you can. However, it is not advisable to use hot spices in a baby’s early food as it is likely to upset his digestive system. Many cultures do so from a very early age, but this is part of the culture and their babies are used to the taste from their mothers’ breastmilk.
Use cinnamon with care when using it for the first time. Cinnamon can provoke a serious reaction, so introduce it carefully and watch out for any redness around the mouth.