How much salt can kids have

salt shaker with some salt spilt on a wooden table

Salt, or dietary sodium, is an important nutrient that’s necessary for the function of nerves and muscles, and keeps the correct balance of fluid in the body. Your body only needs a small amount of sodium to perform its role and too much is detrimental. If you have too much salt in your body and your kidneys are unable to excrete it through urine, it can build up in the blood and may affect the cardiovascular system now or in the future. That’s why it’s important to be aware of your daily intake. Kids need relatively little salt to support their body processes. The most salt a child should eat in a day is as follows:

  • 1g a day for kids 1‐3 years
  • 1.4g a day for kids 4‐8 years
  • 2g a day for kids 9‐13 years
  • 2.3g a day for kids 14‐18 years

For optimal health, most kids and adults need much less than they are eating. In a recent nutrition survey involving kids between the ages of two and 16, boys were found to be eating 9g of salt a day and girls over 6g, well above the recommended maximum levels.

Hidden salt in kid’s diets

The amount of salt you eat in a day isn’t limited to what you sprinkle on your meals. Many foods that both adults and kids enjoy such as breads, cereals, processed meat, cheese and takeaway food contain high levels of salt which if often not obvious. In fact, a single hamburger contains as much as 2.3g of salt and a single serving of large fries contains about 1g. Interestingly, bread can be equally as salty. Just four slices a day can provide 2g of salt, the upper limit for nine‐13 year olds. Other foods that are often high in salt include:

  • Salami
  • Bacon
  • Ham
  • Cheese
  • Olives
  • Anchovies
  • Pickles
  • Salted and dry‐roasted nuts
  • Soy sauce
  • Stock cubes
  • Bread products such as crumpets and bagels
  • Pasta sauces
  • Ready meals
  • Pizza
  • Tomato sauce, mayonnaise and other sauces
  • Chips

How can you reduce your child’s daily salt intake?

Most salt in Australian diets comes from processed, packaged foods so it’s a good idea to limit their consumption and focus on whole foods instead. Wholefoods contain salt too, but in more natural and appropriate levels. This includes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unsalted nuts and seeds, milk, eggs and yoghurt, lean meat, poultry, fish and legumes.

When shopping for muesli bars, pasta sauces and other packaged food, look for products that contain less than 120mg of salt per 100g of food to ensure your child isn’t going to be consuming too much. If you regularly add salt to family meals, try cutting it out or adding less. Use different spices and rediscover the natural flavours of your favourite foods. Ensuring your child eats less salt now can help ensure they don’t develop a taste for salty food, which will make them less likely to overindulge as they grow older.