Health experts have been raising the alarm for years: Americans eat too much salt (and thus are more likely to have a host of health problems). With no luck in getting adults to cut back, the focus has turned to children.
In an attempt to find out just how early our taste for salty foods is set, researchers studied babies in their first months of life. A team from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit research institute in Philadelphia, first offered 2-month-old infants bottles containing plain water, mildly salty water and heavily salted water. The babies either rejected, or at least didn’t prefer, the water with salt.
When those same babies returned to the lab at 6 months old, researchers found that those who had been introduced to starchy table foods – including processed breakfast cereals and crackers that generally contain added salt – at home actually preferred salt solution to plain water. Those who had only been exposed to other types of table foods, such as fruit, didn’t seem to have a preference for salt.
Researchers met with some of the families again when the children entered preschool. And parents of those who had been introduced to starchy table foods before 6 months of age were more likely to lick salt from foods, and also were likely to eat plain salt.
Their report appeared Dec. 20 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study was small, involving just 61 children, and the authors say more research is needed to help experts understand just how salt preferences are set. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for first foods for your baby, applesauce might be the way to go.