Salt is always a big topic of conversation in my Introducing Solids to babies classes. There are some popular websites and books that recommend completely restricting salt from a baby’s diet. I disagree and believe that unrefined salt is a healthy component of a baby’s diet.
There is a reason that salt is one of the five flavors that we taste in food (along with sweet, bitter, sour and unami/savory) and why our food tastes better with salt. The two main components of salt are sodium and chloride. We need both of these elements for survival and since our bodies cannot make them, we must get them through our food. In ancient cultures salt was considered a holy food and Plato described salt as “especially dear to the gods.” Throughout history salt has been traded by different cultures and used as a flavoring and preservative. It has only been in recent history that salt has been looked upon as an unhealthy food that should be severely restricted or avoided. These recommendations make no distinction between refined and unrefined salt and they don’t take into account the nutritional benefits of unrefined salt.
The white table salt that is so ubiquitous in our society has been highly refined. The refining of salt uses many processes and chemicals to strip salt of the trace minerals. All of the research highlighting the negative effects of salt on the body has been done using refined sea salt. I agree that we should limit or eliminate this type of salt in our diets.
Unrefined sea salt is very different from its refined counterpart. In its natural state salt contains eighty highly absorbable trace minerals such as iodine, magnesium, calcium, potassium and bromide. These minerals are naturally found together and in proportions that support many processes in the body. For example, salt supports metabolism, detoxification, hydration, moving nutrients through the body, hormone production and the immune system. Salt is also essential for the growth and development of the brain.
Small amounts of unrefined salt have always been a part of traditional diets for babies. Nina Planck, author of Real Food for Mom and Baby, writes about recipes from traditional baby food books that nourished many generations of babies all of which contain a “pinch of salt”. In the book Super Nutrition for Babies authors Katherine Erlich, M.D. and Kelly Genzlinger encourage the use of unrefined sea salt in a baby’s diet and state, “Particularly, unrefined salt is important for proper digestion and nutrient assimilation and thus serves to bolster the immune system.”
Salt is only white once it has been refined and bleached so unrefined salt will have a color like beige, grey or pink. I recommend Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt and adding small amounts of unrefined salt to any food you make your baby.