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Taste for Salt May Start in Infancy

Babies Given Starchy Foods Too Soon May Develop Preference for Salty Foods

Start Good Eating Habits Early

“What our study shows is that babies’ taste system is very malleable,” Stein tells WebMD. “If early exposure to salt increases the preference and taste for salt of an individual, then one might imply that down the road it might be harder to eat lower-salt food and enjoy it.”

Nutrition experts say the results emphasize the importance of starting healthy eating habits as early as possible.

“This study helps us appreciate that what we do in the first year of life is so important to how kids eat, how well they eat, how varied they eat, and what their food preferences are,” says pediatric nutritionist Jill Castle, RD.

Castle says that between 6 months and 8 months of age, babies should only be just starting to be exposed to starchy table foods like bread, crackers, and ready-to-eat cereals in small amounts. The bulk of their daily calories should still come from breast milk or formula, iron-fortified baby cereal, fruit, and vegetables.

Experts say many parents aren’t aware that ready-to-eat cereals, bread, crackers, and other starchy foods marketed to children contain sodium, which can add up over the course of the day if the child is eating a variety of these foods.

“There seems to be an increased preponderance of parents trying to choose those types of foods for their kids,” says pediatrician Christine Wood, MD. “These foods are being marketed as being appropriate for children, but I really try to focus in on parents trying to have the focus on a lot of fresh foods, fruits, and vegetables being the most important things.”

Aside from increasing the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease down the road, Wood says there are also more immediate health risks associated with children developing a taste for salty foods.

“We know that starchier foods in general are more calorie-dense foods,” says Wood, who is also the author of How to Get Kids to Eat Great and Love It! That may lead to a higher risk of childhood obesity.

Ways to Introduce Good Eats

Wood and Castle agree that the best advice for parents introducing their child to healthy foods is to keep food as wholesome and fresh as possible.

Their tips include:

  • Keep fresh fruit and vegetables cut up and front and center in the refrigerator for easy access.
  • Make whole wheat pasta with marinara sauce rather than macaroni and cheese out of a box.
  • Introduce starchy foods like bread when age appropriate for your child (usually between 6-8 months of age).
  • Choose less processed foods whenever possible.

The fewer foods that come out of a packaged box the better, Wood says. “Then you can control the amount of salt.”

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