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Baby, Hold the Salt

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Baby, Hold the Salt

Do you love salty foods? Your cravings may have started in infancy. New research shows that what we feed our infants may be the start of lifelong salty cravings.

If you’re having a tough time resisting the urge to reach for potato chips and french fries when you want a snack, you might have your parents to blame. Those cravings for salty snacks could well have started when you were a wee babe.

Researchers at a nonprofit research centre in Philadelphia looked at a prospective cohort of babies to find out whether there is a relationship between early dietary experiences and the preference for salt later in life.

The study involved 61 infants who were tested for their salt preferences at two months and then at six months old. They were given a bottle of plain water, another containing a moderately salty concentration of sodium (similar to the saltiness of commercial chicken soup), and a third containing a higher concentration of sodium (which would taste extremely salty to adults).

They found that the two-month-old infants were either “indifferent” to or “rejected” the salty solutions. When the same infants were again tested with the solutions at six months, preferences changed depending on the types of foods they had been introduced to in the meantime.

The researchers found that those who had been fed starchy table foods that often contain salt (french fries and other processed foods) preferred both of the salty solutions to the plain water. The infants who hadn’t been exposed to starchy foods (but who instead were fed foods such as fruits and vegetables), preferred the plain water.

The results held for the infants as they became older: the preschool-aged children who were fed starchy foods early in their infancy were more likely to lick salt from foods such as pretzels and crackers—and even to eat plain salt.

We all know the dangers of high-sodium diets on our overall health: hypertension, leading to possible cardiovascular disease. This study may give us a weapon against salt overindulgence later in our children’s lives.

If you’re winning the battle against your salt cravings, congratulations! If you have the occasional slip, though, remember to be kind to your parents—remember, they hadn’t read the research.

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