Learn what counts as added sugar, why the USDA and other health organizations recommend that babies and toddlers avoid added sugar, and where to watch out for added sugar.
The groundbreaking new guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are the first to advise families on how to feed babies and toddlers under 2 years of age, to help form healthy eating habits for the rest of babies’ lives.
One of the most notable recommendations from the USDA is that babies and toddlers under 2 years of age should not be fed any added sugar. This is because feeding added sugar poses the risk that babies will prefer unhealthy, overly sweet foods for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately, most babies already consume too much added sugar. On average, babies younger than 1 year of age consume one teaspoon of added sugar each day, while toddlers age 1-2 year olds consume 6 teaspoons of added sugar each day.
Today, we’ll break down what counts as added sugar, why the USDA and other health organizations recommend avoiding added sugar for babies, and where to watch out for added sugar.
What Counts As Added Sugar?
Added sugar is any sugar that doesn’t show up naturally in an unprocessed food or drink. Rather, added sugar is sugar added to processed or prepared foods.
The natural sugars in breastmilk, cow’s milk, and fresh fruits are perfectly fine for babies, as they aren't "added" into the food. Rather, the natural sugars are already part of these healthy foods.
But if a processed food has any extra sugar listed separately on the label, or a recipe has sugar added in as an ingredient, that food is not okay for babies.
It doesn’t matter if that added sugar is organic cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup --- you shouldn’t feed a processed or prepared food with added sugar to your baby. All added sugar needs to be avoided.
USDA Recommendations On Avoiding Added Sugar
According to the USDA’S new Dietary Guidelines For Americans (DGA), “Infants and young children have virtually no room in their diet for added sugars. This is because the nutrient requirements for infants and young children are quite high relative to their size, but the amount of complementary foods they consume is small. Complementary foods need to be nutrient-dense and not contain additional calories from added sugar.”
In other words, since babies and toddlers eat relatively small amounts of food, all the foods they eat need to be carefully chosen to meet their nutritional needs. Every bite counts!
Foods with added sugars take away critical spots in baby’s diet that you could have filled with nutrient-packed foods. The unhealthy calories (energy) in added sugar take away from the healthy energy in foods like vegetables, fruits, eggs, and meats.
The USDA also states that “The time from birth until a child’s second birthday… is key for establishing healthy dietary patterns that may influence the trajectory of eating behaviors and health throughout the life course...Taste preferences are being formed during this time period, and infants and young children may develop preferences for overly sweet foods if introduced to very sweet foods during this timeframe.”
So, according to the USDA, feeding babies and toddlers foods with added sugar poses the risk that babies and toddlers will prefer unhealthy, sweet foods for the rest of their lives.
But, focusing on nutritious foods free of added sugar in baby’s first two years of life (especially veggies and fruits) encourages children to select and enjoy healthy foods in the future. Avoiding added sugar is key to building lasting healthy eating habits for your little one.
Learn more about the USDA guidelines on added sugar and the Scientific Report that led to these guidelines:
American Heart Association Recommendations On Avoiding Added Sugar
Like the USDA, the American Heart Association also recommends that babies under two years of age avoid added sugars. This is because eating foods high in added sugar during childhood increases a child’s risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and other health conditions. And if a child is introduced to added sugars too early (i.e. before the age of two), this increases the risk that they will choose overly sweet foods later in childhood, and throughout adulthood as well.
Remember --- if babies don’t consume added sugars, they won’t know what they’re missing. They’ll prefer the taste of nutritious, delicious foods instead, including naturally sweet fruits.
Sources Of Added Sugar To Avoid
As we mentioned earlier, most babies and toddlers already consume too much added sugar. According to one study, two-thirds of babies under age one have already consumed added sugar, while over 98% of toddlers consume added sugar on a given day.
This is likely because added sugars are hidden in so many foods --- including foods that are so common in babies and toddlers to avoid.
Here are some ways that added sugar can show up on a food label, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Read labels carefully, and avoid these:
- Corn syrup/high-fructose corn syrup/corn sweetener
- Malt syrup
- Brown sugar
- Cane sugar
- Raw sugar
And here are some common sources of added sugar that you’ll need to avoid feeding baby:
- Flavored yogurt
- Flavored yogurt is one of the most common ways babies ages 6-11 months are fed added sugar.
- Stick to feeding baby plain yogurt without added sugar instead. Add fruit to plain yogurt for some naturally sweet variety!
- Snacks made for babies/toddlers
- Surprisingly, many snacks marketed towards children under age 2, including ones marketed as healthy, contain added sugars babies and toddlers don’t need.
- Fruit snacks are one common source of added sugar to avoid.
- Juices and fruit drinks
- Juices and fruit drinks are one of the most common ways babies ages 12-23 months consume added sugar.
- In their guidelines, the USDA recommends that babies up to age 1 shouldn’t consume any juice, and that toddlers ages 1-2 should get most of their fruit intake from unprocessed fruits instead of juices.
- The USDA also states outright, “Juices that contain added sugars should be avoided.”
- In addition, the USDA states, “sugar-sweetened beverage intake in infancy and early childhood may predispose children to consume more of these beverages later in life.” The USDA names juice drinks as “sugar-sweetened beverages” that children under 2 should avoid.
- Baked goods
- Store-bought baby food
- Flavored milks
- Stick to whole, unflavored milk instead.
- Certain prepared cereals
- Plain oatmeal with fruit added is a better choice for your little one.
- Ice cream
- Some packaged “toddler meals”
- Like many toddler snacks, some packaged meals for toddlers have added sugars. Read the labels carefully, and pick meals free of added sugar.
- Or, try these easy recipes for 1-year-olds. All the recipes on our list have no added sugar!
Ready. Set. Food! Introduces Allergens With No Added Sugar
Along with their recommendations to avoid added sugar, the USDA recommends feeding babies and toddlers common allergens, including peanuts, egg, cow’s milk products, tree nuts, wheat, and soy.
Ready. Set. Food! is the only system that introduces the top 9 allergens to babies and toddlers with no added sugar. Follow the USDA guidelines with Ready. Set. Food!, and give your little one the best chance at food freedom later in life. Help prepare your baby for a lifetime of healthy eating!
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