Salt and High Blood Pressure: The Early Years

- Sep• 25•12

Attention mothers and grandmothers. Do you know that what you feed your babies the very first time will determine their future health? You want them to grow healthy and strong, but they may well become obese and disease prone if you feed them salty food. By  unnecessarily adding salt to their very first meals, you are creating a long-term unhealthy taste habit that will result in a long list of health problems as they grow older.

Let me share with you this actual story to show how the taste buds of a baby are influenced from the very start. Recently, my wife and I walked into my friend’s noisy living room full of men talking about politics and the stock market. Everybody had a drink in hand and was munching on salty, deep-fried appetizers. They seemed totally oblivious to the fact that what they were putting into their mouths could determine their future at least as much as politics or the stock market.

We bypassed this gathering and went into the family room for the real excitement. The main attraction was a beautiful baby urrounded by aunts and grandmothers on both sides of the family. The baby, in the arms of the proud mother, was about to eat solid food for the first time.

The initial feeding of solid food after consuming only mother’s milk is a major milestone in the life of a baby that is observed by some cultures with a gathering of friends and family.

At this party, everybody was expected to take turns wishing this baby a “long, healthy” life and then feeding him something solid.

When our turn came, we went through the usual ritual and looked for something to feed the baby. The only option was a laddu (salty, sweet deep-fried food). I was horrified. I said to myself, “How about we give him a puff of a cigarette while we are at it?”

I wanted to scream out loud, “Don’t go salting his food!” There is plenty of evidence to show that salt can cause even babies to have high blood pressure and leads to many other health problems later in life. That is definitely not what you want. Over 90 percent of this gathering had at least a college degree. They should have known better. Why were they not paying any attention?

Do you know what happens to the taste habits of babies once they’re fed salty foods? New evidence published in the January 2012 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that we acquire the taste for salt from the salty food we’re fed as babies.

The Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia tested 61 infants for their salt preference. All the babies at the age of two months preferred plain water over salty foods.

Here is the alarming part. The infants who were then fed salty foods preferred salty fluids over plain water when tested at six months of age. The other infants who had not been fed salty foods still did not like salty fluids. Furthermore, the children who were exposed to salt before the age of six months were more likely to lick salt when they reached preschool age.

The conclusion: We are not born with a taste for salt. It is an acquired taste— one that we wind up paying for all through our lives. We are not to blame. Our mothers and grandmothers had a lot to do with this salt habit. So along with your blessing, give your babies only what promotes a “healthy, long life” and steer them away from salt.


The development of salty taste acceptance is related to dietary experience in human infants: a prospective study

Stein, LJ et al: Am J Clin Nutr; Jan 2012 vol 95 no.1 123-129

From the Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, PA.

Supported by the National Institute of Health (NIH)

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