Salt and the Innate Wisdom of Babies

December 22, 2011 · 7 comments

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Rock Salt, salt crystals, sodium chloride

In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that 6 month old infants who had previously been introduced to starchy table foods had a greater preference for the salty taste than did infants not eating these foods. The study was conducted at the Monell Center (Advancing Discovery in Taste and Smell) in Philadelphia. Scientists there are at the forefront of discovery, investigating the senses of taste and smell in order to answer critical questions about health, behavior and the environment. That being said, I wonder about their conclusions.

They conclude that early dietary experience shapes the salt preference of infants and preschoolers. According to their website publication of the research:

In the study, salt preference of 61 infants was tested at both 2 and 6 months of age. At each age, the infant was allowed to drink from three bottles for two minutes each. One bottle contained water, another contained a moderate concentration of salt (one percent, about the saltiness of commercial chicken noodle soup) and the third bottle had a higher concentration of salt (two percent, which tastes extremely salty to adults).

Preference for salty taste was calculated at each age by comparing the amount the infant consumed of a given salt solution to the amount of water it consumed. Thus, if the infant drank more of the one percent salt solution than water, it was considered to have a preference for the one percent solution.

Two-month-old infants were either indifferent to (one percent) or rejected (two percent) the salt solutions. At 6 months, salty taste preference of the same infants was related to previous exposure to starchy table food. The 26 infants already eating starchy foods preferred both salt solutions to water, while the 35 babies who had not yet been introduced to these foods remained indifferent to or continued to reject the salt solutions.

The researchers focused on starchy table foods because they include processed foods, such as breakfast cereals, bread and crackers, which frequently are used as beginning foods and often contain added salt. Exposure to other types of table foods, such as fruit, was not associated with an increased preference for the taste of salt.

Leslie J. Stein, Ph.D., physiological psychologist at Monell, and lead author of the study, has concluded that early dietary experience influences the preference for salty taste.

The results showed that at 2 months, the infants were either indifferent to the salt taste or rejected it. They were not exposed to any foods prior to the tasting, presumably because they were too young. At 6 months they were given starchy “first” foods such as cereal, bread and crackers. This seemed to predispose the infants to “preferring” the salty water.

Is salt really a problem?

“Salt is an essential nutrient,” as explained on the website of the Salt Institute. That is why humans have an appetite for salt. Without it we would perish.

Infants require salt in order for their brain cells to develop. It has been found that infants fed formula without salt have had problems in neurological development.

Additionally, salt provides us with sodium and chloride ions that are needed to expedite digestion. The enzymes that facilitate carbohydrate breakdown are sodium dependent. Sodium is also required for the manufacture of bile which helps emulsify fats for easy absorption. Chloride, which only comes from dietary salt, is necessary for the body to make hydrochloric acid. HCl is needed for protein digestion. Adequate HCl is also needed to protect us from pathogens that may enter the body through the mouth with food.

The adrenal glands need salt for the transport of vitamin C into the gland. Vitamin C is a vital cofactor to enzymes that are involved in the production of adrenal hormones. The adrenal hormones include epinephrine and norepinephrine, all the sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, aldosterone which regulates blood pressure and other hormones that help regulate mineral metabolism and stress responses. Salt craving is a sign of low adrenal function.

This is my conclusion to the infant salt study quoted above:

The infants “preferred” salt after eating starchy processed foods that should never be babies’ first foods, because in their infinite innate wisdom, they needed the assistance of additional sodium and chloride to digest the processed starchy food.

Furthermore, after eating inappropriate foods that stress the digestive system, the adrenal glands also become stressed. As stated above, the adrenal glands need salt to synthesize adrenal hormones. When they are stressed, they need additional salt.

In conclusion, I would say that infants should never be given starchy processed foods at 6 months and doing so stresses their adrenal glands and their digestive systems and creates an intuitive craving for this essential nutrient needed to achieve balance and homeostasis.

What so you think? Leave a comment and let me know!

Read my previous article about the 5 Reasons to Eat Salt.

Read Food Renegade’s thorough article about why infant should not be fed cereals.

Where to buy high quality sea salt with all the trace minerals.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pam December 23, 2011 at 12:27 pm

This was really interesting.  I so wish I would have known more about traditional foods and nutrition when my son was born.  Sigh…


2 Jill December 23, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Hi Pam,
Yes, I feel the same way. Sigh. But as Sally Fallon Morell says in many of her talks, practice forgiveness — for yourself especially. We did the best we could at the time.


3 Danielle December 23, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Very interesting study and conclusions – yours seem more valid than the “official” version.   Grains before 6 months of age?  Poor kids – no wonder their digestive systems were stressed.


4 Karen December 29, 2011 at 2:32 am

What an interesting study! Thank you for posting this… I did use cereals when introducing food to my son after 6 months of age. I think I have some research to do before it’s time to introduce solids to any future children we might have. What you have written really makes me think… Thank you.


5 Paula @ Whole Intentions December 29, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Hi Jill,

This was so interesting! There’s sooo much I wish I would have known before my kids were born. But, one step at a time – thanks so much for bringing this to our attention!


6 Dani December 30, 2011 at 6:11 am

This is interesting, the correlation between the salt and the starchy cereals. It’s a sad state of affairs when modern recommendations for the first solid foods are the very thing that kids should NOT be started on. *sigh* 
Thanks for writing about this, so more people know!!!


7 Jill December 30, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Hi Dani,
At this point it is “common knowledge” to start babies with cereal foods. So misinformed… sigh.


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