Sodium is a naturally occurring mineral found in foods like eggs, milk (including breast milk and formula), meat, and vegetables. It’s an essential nutrient our bodies need in small amounts to regulate fluids in our blood and to power our neurological system but too much is not healthy.
When combined with chloride, sodium makes salt, a pervasive ingredient in processed foods and staple in every kitchen. But is sodium safe for babies and toddlers? Here’s what you need to know.
Babies can have salt in moderation. Sodium helps regulate water balance in cells and stimulate immune function, muscle contraction, nerve function, and more.
That said, too much salt too soon is not healthy.
Not when consumed as part of a regular diet. Most often, excessive salt or sodium in the diet is problematic from a long-term health perspective, though there have been cases of salt poisoning (both deliberate and unintentional, often from the child eating play dough) but this is extremely rare.
The most likely risk associated with excessive salt or sodium consumption in infancy is that it may set the stage for sustained increased sodium consumption.
It depends on your child’s age. For infants 6 months and younger, the recommended amount of sodium per day is 110 milligrams and, for babies 7 to 12 months of age, it increases to 370 milligrams. That said, there's no need to count milligrams.
In the United States, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences issues nutrient recommendations called Dietary Reference Intakes or Adequate Intakes (AI). Due to insufficient data for babies, an AI for sodium has been established based on sodium levels in breast milk and the recommendations are below: Note: The milligrams of sodium listed here are not strict rules but rather guidelines.
For infants 6 months and younger, the AI for sodium is 110 milligrams per day.
Babies between the ages of 7 and 12 months have an AI of 370 milligrams per day.
Children between 1 and 3 years of age have an AI of 800 milligrams per day.
Studies show that almost 80% of toddlers in the United States consume more than the maximum intake of 1,500 milligrams per day, with an average daily consumption of 2,000 milligrams in toddlers aged 1 to 3 years old.
Adding salt to baby's food is unnecessary and has not been established as safe. If your baby shows interest in a developmentally appropriate food that you’re eating that contains a lot of salt, just consider serving a small portion. If the food is something that was prepared at home in which a small amount of salt was used, try not to worry. For meal ideas you can share with baby, our Recipe and Meal Kit has you covered.
Salt can be added to food in moderation after your baby’s first birthday. Whole, fresh foods contain less sodium than packaged and processed foods. If your baby is mostly consuming whole foods prepared at home, a pinch of salt to season a larger dish for the entire family should be fine. However, refrain from adding salt directly to your child’s food and aim to season meals with fresh herbs and spices instead. Read labels when using condiments to flavor foods as they often contain lots of sodium.
Ketchup may be served in moderation once your baby is 12 months old, but it would be wise to consider brands with lower salt and sugar levels. On average, commercial ketchup contains about 150 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon.
Avoid serving infants fish sauce and soy sauce because they contain a substantial amount of sodium — 1,000 milligrams or more per serving. If a homemade family dish calls for soy or fish sauce, consider replacements like coconut aminos if there is no coconut allergy. While still high in sodium, coconut aminos contain roughly half the sodium compared to soy sauce per tablespoon.
Lastly, many condiments contain additives and preservatives that are inappropriate for babies and contain hidden allergens like anchovy, sesame, soy, and wheat. Read labels carefully and, when in doubt, skip the condiments for infants.
For flavorful dinner recipes that the whole family can enjoy, check out our 100 Dinner Menus for Babies & Toddlers.
Yes, but in limited amounts. MSG is the salt form of an amino acid and is naturally present in a number of foods (cheese, mushrooms, meat, seaweed, and many vegetables) as well as commercially produced, used to add umami flavor to dishes. MSG has been extensively studied in adults, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies MSG additives as safe. That said, we recommend limiting baby’s exposure for two reasons: the effects of MSG have not been studied in infants, and MSG is often added to processed, high-sodium foods that should be avoided for babies anyway (including potato chips, fried chicken, and even tomato soup). MSG sensitivity, an occurrence that is not well-supported by research, has included self-resolving symptoms such as headache, numbness, flushing, tingling, palpitations, and drowsiness. MSG is a common ingredient in many kitchens, so if baby shows no sensitivity to added MSG, feel free to continue to use it in moderation in your cooking at home.
Sodium levels vary from food to food and product to product. Foods with the highest levels of sodium include the following:
1,176 mg per 1 tbsp
1,100 mg per ½ cube
Low sodium chicken broth
Salami / Pepperoni
953 mg per 2oz
870 mg per 1 tbsp
Corned Beef, Pastrami
865 mg per 3oz
Fresh roast beef
Macaroni & Cheese
837 mg per 1 cup
Vegan mac + cheese w/ nutritional yeast
834 mg per 1 cup
Low sodium canned soup
712 mg per slice
Pizza with fresh mozzarella, no pepperoni
647 mg per 1 cup
Rinse under water; low sodium brands
606 mg per 1 cup
Low sodium vegetable juice
580 mg per 5oz
Homemade; reduce seasoning packet
575 per 1 tbsp
535 per 1 cup
Discard seasoning packet; cook in low sodium broth
“Low Sodium” Soy Sauce
533 per 1 tbsp
522 mg per 2oz
Grilled chicken, *fresh* turkey or roast beef
516 mg per 1oz
Swiss cheese, goat cheese
Hot Dogs & Veggie Dogs
498 mg per frankfurter
488 mg per 2oz
Uncured fresh sausages
475 mg per 5 nuggets
Homemade or Earth’s Best brand
430 mg per 1oz
Fresh mozzarella, Swiss or goat cheese
412 mg per tortilla
Unsalted corn tortillas
392 mg per 1oz
390 mg per 1oz
Goat cheese crumbles
385 mg per slice
Challah, Pullman bread
Smoked Fish (Gravlax)
380 mg per 2oz
Fresh fish or homemade gravlax
350 mg per 1oz
Fresh mozzarella, Swiss or goat cheese
347 mg per 1 small bag
No salt added pretzels
337 mg per 1oz
321mg per 1oz
295 mg per 3oz
Canned Beans (no liquid)
290 mg per 90 grams
Low sodium beans + rinse under water
269 mg per 2 slices
255mg per 1oz
250 mg per 3 sticks
245 mg per 1oz
236 mg per 2 slices
Sprouted grain bread such as Ezekiel
227 mg per spear
218 mg per ½ cup
Thin rice cakes, low sodium
210 mg per 3oz
Low sodium canned fish; rinse under water
203 mg per 1 tsp
Nutritional yeast with jam
201 mg per ½ cup
Overnight chia pudding
190 mg per 1oz
Fresh mozzarella, Swiss cheese
164 mg per 1 tbsp
Low sodium BBQ sauce
Kimchi / Sauerkraut
149 mg per 30 grams
Rinse under water
149 mg per 1 tsp
Dilute with avocado oil or coconut oil
148 mg per 1 small bag
Low sodium chips; homemade in air fryer
140 mg per 1oz
Thin rice cakes, low sodium
136 mg per 1 tbsp
Tomato paste; low sodium ketchup
89 mg per 1oz
Mascarpone or ricotta cheese
Yes, if used in typical culinary applications. While baking soda and baking powder are both high in sodium, the actual serving size (and amount baby will consume) is relatively small and not of concern. Babies and toddlers can have baked goods prepared with baking soda or powder without any modifications, especially as part of an overall well-balanced and varied diet (though you may want to cut out any added sugars from these recipes). If you are actively working to limit sodium in your child's diet, consider opting for recipes that use baking powder over ones that use baking soda, as the latter is significantly higher in sodium.
No. While the amount of baking soda used in cooking is typically small enough to not pose an issue, baking soda's extremely high levels of sodium mean that using it as a remedy can lead to severe illness. Consuming too much baking soda as part of a home remedy has lead to significant electrolyte abnormalities and toxicity.
Sodium is an essential nutrient our bodies need but too much is not healthy.
Early and excessive exposure to sodium can prime your baby’s palate for salty foods. Salt can be added to food in moderation after your baby’s first birthday, though studies show that the vast majority of toddlers are consuming too much sodium.
Remember: What you feed your child today lays the foundation for taste preferences for tomorrow. Get started on solids safely while bringing baby to the family meal. Need support? See our Starting Solids Bundle.
J. Truppi, MSN, CNS
L. Jones, MS, RD, CDN
R. Ruiz, MD Board-Certified General Pediatrician and Pediatric Gastroenterologist
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