I remember a decade ago sitting in front of my 9-month-old daughter, who was in her highchair, trying to feed her a spoonful of pureed vegetables. It didn’t matter whether it was peas or green beans or something else, because the result was the same: she put it in her mouth, and it came out right away.
Compare this to feeding her apple juice, as she would open her mouth after each bite and approach the chair with pleasure. I almost danced with her. This was easier! Let’s just keep doing this! But as a nutritional epidemiologist, I knew that satisfying her craving for sweetness alone wouldn’t benefit her health in the long run.
At the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, I study the consequences of poor nutrition on the health of mothers and children. Most recently, she served on the committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that summarized guidelines for feeding infants and children up to age two. As part of the committee, I helped write a report on feeding young children added sugars and sugar-sweetened beverages. And – spoiler alert! Experts advise no added sugar for infants and little or no added sugar for children 12 to 24 months of age.
Added sugars are the sugars and juices that are added to foods during processing, preparation, or later at the table. It can be natural sugars, such as honey, or artificial sweeteners, such as high-fructose corn syrup. Yogurt, baby snacks, fruit drinks, desserts, and sweet bakery products are the most common sources of added sugars in infant and toddler meals.
Unlike naturally occurring sugars in fruits, dairy, vegetables, bread and other grains, natural sugars and artificial sweeteners added to foods are the ones we should eliminate or limit in young children’s meals. but why?
From birth to 24 months, proper growth and development requires calories and nutrients. Foods and drinks that are high in added sugars provide a lot of calories — referred to as “empty calories” — but not many nutrients. Introducing foods with added sugars to babies from birth to 24 months is a problem because they eat relatively small amounts of food at this stage.
To ensure healthy nutrition, the food they eat should be rich in nutrients. If young children are satiating foods or drinks that are high in calories and sugar, that leaves less room for nutritious foods.
Children who are fed diets rich in added sugars are more likely than children who eat less sugar to have a number of negative health consequences as they grow up, including childhood obesity, cardiovascular disease and tooth decay.
Diet from birth to 24 months also shapes long-term food preferences. People crave sugar because it builds up fat stores and prevented our ancestors from starving when food was scarce.
But children can learn to accept bitter foods that are rich in nutrients, such as vegetables, if they are introduced repeatedly in early childhood.
Establishing healthy diet patterns early in life can help children maintain a healthy weight and avoid chronic disease.
Here are some practical tips for parents and caregivers of infants and young children to eliminate or reduce sugar consumption
1. Look at the food label
Check the amount of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts label on foods and drinks before you buy them. The labels include the amount of “total sugars,” and below that the amount of “added sugars.” One 8-ounce serving of chocolate milk has 15 grams of added sugar, for example, while regular cow’s milk has no added sugar.
2. Switch to healthy drinks
Replace sweetened drinks with water or milk (breast milk, formula or other milk, depending on the age of the child). Avoid or limit sugary drinks such as regular soda, flavored milk, fruit drinks, juice containing less than 100% fruit, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened water or tea.
3. Eliminate sugar during food preparation
Prepare foods for your little one at home without adding sugar.
4. Pay attention to the different names of sugar
Some packaged foods literally have “sweetener” in their names, such as sweetened applesauce or sweetened peaches. But it is not always easy to detect sugar. Foods we wouldn’t expect to contain often contain added sugars, such as yogurt. Added sugars are known by many different names, such as high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, cane sugar, corn sweeteners, lactose, glucose, sucrose, and maple syrup. So always check the ingredients list.
5. Watch out for the sugar in packaged or store-bought foods
If you offer your child canned or store-bought foods and drinks, such as dry cereal, fruit bags, or baby food packages, they should have little or no added sugars.
6. Try again and again
Offer children bitter foods such as vegetables over and over. Toddlers need to be exposed to foods 30 times or so before they learn to love them!
Reducing added sugar is not as easy as we often make it a pro. In fact, it may not be possible for many people due to limited access or high prices for healthy foods. Some people have urgent needs that may take precedence over a healthy diet. Fast food restaurants and fast food stores seem to be everywhere you look.
So don’t try to make all these changes with your child at once. Pick one that seems feasible, and try it out first. Gradually add another. Remember that breaking a healthy habit is normal. The important thing is to get back on the horse and try again.
(This article was published by PTI from The Conversation)