New Study: Salt Cravings Start Early

By Rebecca Jones

According to a new study preferences for salty food may be established much earlier in life than previously assumed, reaffirming the notion that healthy eating habits need to be established while children are still very young.

According to the latest research infants that are exposed to high sodium foods like crackers, cereal and bread are more likely to crave these foods as adults than their peers who were fed the recommended diet of vegetables, fruits and breast milk as infants.

According to Dr. Gary Beauchamp, a biologist at the Monell Center of Philadelphia, “Our data would suggest that if one wants to reduce salt in the population as a whole, then it’s important to start early because infants and children are very vulnerable.”  Considering that on average Americans consume twice their recommended daily allowance of sodium,  researchers wanted to come up with an explanation of why most of us are so addicted to salty foods especially since children are born with a predilection for sugar and sweets.

To conduct their study, researchers tracked 61 infants and the diet that they were fed by their parents especially items that contained added sodium like bread and crackers compared to the amount of fruit and other non-salty items. To test taste preferences after 6 months the children were given the option of drinking either plain water or a salt solution. The children that consumed the most salt at home chose the salt solution over the plain water and consumed 55% more salt during the test while the children who were rarely exposed to salty foods at home either had no preference or actually rejected the sodium solution.

A follow up was conducted when the children reached preschool and similar results were achieved with the children who consumed salt at home more likely to lick salt from foods or actually eat straight salt than those who ate less salt at home.

Dr. Beauchamp, the study’s author, concluded that the reason people tend to consume more salt is that it makes things taste better, which is determined by our early experiences with salty food. The good news is that this taste preference is not necessarily permanent. Many people, who switch to a low sodium diet, after time, begin to like foods that are less salty.

Sodium is an essential part of our diet and doctors do not recommend withholding it from infants all together but they do suggest limiting it to 375 milligrams per day. Considering that some research indicates that reducing sodium intake could prevent 100,000 heart attacks and strokes in America each year this study could help protect the lives of future generations.