Nutrition experts recommend no added sugar for children under 2 years old

Ask the Expert

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – The 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has proposed to the USDA that children under the age of 2 should not eat added sugar in order to lower the risk of being overweight or obese.

The committee is proposing that its recommendations be reflected in the USDA’s dietary upcoming 2020 dietary guidelines, which will steer doctors’ and dietitians’ recommendations for the next five years.

According to the report, studies show that toddlers consume a little more than 6 tsp eq of added sugars each day, and that food category sources of added sugars in the diets of toddlers ages 12 to 24 months include sweetened beverages (27 percent), sweet bakery products (15 percent), yogurt (7 percent), ready-to-eat cereals (6 percent), candy (6 percent), and other desserts (5 percent).

It says 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, and that studies indicate that added sugar consumption in children under the age of two increases the likelihood of developing obesity or becoming overweight.

Bon Secours St. Francis Registered Dietitian Debbie Milne explained the committee’s findings, saying “when babies are developing so rapidly, their nutrient density of their food needs to be a whole lot higher. Nutrient density means the amount of vitamins and minerals and useful things for the body and sugar isn’t useful,” she said.

Added sugars are in everything from jarred baby food to fruit juice, so she said if the USDA adopts these recommendations, it could affect how parents shop.

“Marketing will probably pick up on this, so as with products that say ‘no trans fats,’ we might be able to find a baby food that advertises that it has ‘no added sugars.’ Once you find the brand, it shouldn’t be that difficult to do that,” she said.

If parents would like to follow these recommendations, she said they would look on the label of products to see if there are any added sugars, such as dextrose. She said the committee is mainly referring to things like fruit juice, which is often loaded with added sugar.

“Most pediatricians I’ve read say hold off for a year before giving any fruit juice, if at all,” she said. “Then limit to 4-6 ounces a day if thats something you find you’re going to end up doing.”

Still, she said rare exceptions would be difficult for parents not to make.

“It would be hard for me as a dietitian to say ‘I’d love for you to not celebrate your baby’s first birthday with a cake.’ That isn’t going to create a lot of damage to have a little bit of cake for that baby, but if you want to follow the guidelines, other than that you’re going to look for added sugars in anything. So if you get a teething biscuit, maybe it’s a little snack cake for the baby, look on the label. If it’s something you didn’t make from home, and it’s not a whole food that you pureed, then you would look on the label and check for added sugars,” she said.

Parents should know, she added, that the committee is not referring to fruits and other foods with natural sugars in them.

“There’s sugar that naturally occurs in foods, especially fruits and to a small extent vegetables. and thats not a bad sugar; that’s not an added sugar,” she said. “The advisory committee is warning against added sugars. The sugar naturally found in fruit and vegetables is packaged with fiber and all kinds of vitamins and minerals, processed much slower and it doesn’t have the same effect on your body.”

The panel also says eating peanuts and eggs at 4 months of age may reduce the risk of food allergies, but that there was no evidence that introducing one of the common allergens in the first year of life creates an allergy to that food.

“Protein is the part that causes an allergic reaction,” Milne said. “It could be a little bit of peanut thats smoothed into the cereal. You do have to watch out; if it’s thick it could be a choking hazard, so you don’t want to just give a spoonful of peanut butter.”

If parents want to prevent picky eaters, the committee said “nutritional exposures during the first 1,000 days of life not only contribute to long-term health, but also help shape taste preferences and food choices.”

Milne elaborated, saying “the idea is not to give up on trying to get the baby to develop acceptance of a variety of vegetables and fruits of various colors. When you vary the colors, the nutrients vary.”

The USDA’s dietary guidelines are expected to be released by the end of 2020. Before making any changes to a child’s diet, Milne said parents should always talk first to a pediatrician.

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