Sugar and fat reduction easier than salt for children’s food: Study

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food intake, Nutrition

Levels of fat and sugar could be lowered in foods for children without having an impact on palatability, however salt reduction should be “considered cautiously”, according to new research.

The study, published in British Journal of Nutrition​ suggests that salt may play an important role in the flavour and acceptability of vegetables for young children, but are not needed in more popular starchy foods like pasta.

The research, evaluating the impact of salt, fat and sugar levels in common foods on children’s intake, advises that reducing salts could lead to a play-off between the risks associated with high salt intake and a decrease in the acceptance of certain foods that should be encouraged for children – such as green vegetables.

“Nutritional policies regarding the use of salt, fat and sugar aimed at children could take these results into account and could emphasise that salt addition should be limited and that fat and sugar addition can be avoided, helping to prevent obesity from an early age on and to establish healthier food habits,”​ said the researchers, led by Sofia Bouhlal from the Universite de Bourgogne, France.

Child nutrition

Bouhlal and colleagues said the past few years has seen many countries develop governmental policies aimed at decreasing the intake of salt-rich, fat-rich and sugar-rich foods.

However, they noted that data measuring the impact of these reductions on food consumption, particularly in young children, are not available.

Understanding the importance of early childhood in the development of long-standing food behaviour, and studying the impact of the recommendations on child food intake seems necessary, they said, adding that is was especially important to understand the influence of sensory properties on food intake in young children.

“In the present context of the universal prevalence of paediatric obesity and of the wide availability of palatable processed foods, it is essential to take into account the sensory drivers of eating,”​ they said.

Previous research has shown a preference for salty taste in a solution emerges at about the age of four months and persists till the age of two years, whilst “an innate preference for sweet solutions”​, can be observed just a few hours after birth – with newborn babies preferring highly sweet solutions.

In the new study children were served lunches composed of, among other items, green beans and pasta with varying salt or fat levels and afternoon snacks composed of fruit puree varying in sugar level. The researchers monitored preferences by measuring the amount of the food consumed.

Study details

Bouhlal and co workers reported that salt had an impact on intake but fat did not. They found that in general food intake increased with salt level, noting that compared with the ‘normal’ salt levels, a suppression of salt induced a 25 per cent decrease in green bean intake, whereas an addition of salt induced a 15 per cent increase in pasta intake.

Contrarily to initial beliefs, the researchers observed no increase in food intake with increasing added sugar level. They said the findings indicate that two to three year old children’s food intake may not be affected by its added sugar content.

The study data also showed that preschool children with a higher BMI score consumed more pasta when fat level was higher. The authors said this finding may confirm previous results which highlight fatter children prefer high-fat foods.

The researcher said their results imply that fat and sugar addition could be avoided in foods for children without having an impact on palatability, allowing the energy density of children’s diet to be limited.

“Furthermore, these findings suggest that there is no need to add salt to pasta which is consumed anyway. On the contrary, salt suppression in vegetables, whose intake is to be promoted, should be considered cautiously,”​ they said.

Source: British Journal of Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1017/S0007114510003752
“The impact of salt, fat and sugar levels on toddler food intake”
Authors: S. Bouhlal, S. Issanchou, S. Nicklaus

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