'Every bite counts': new dietary guidelines recommend no added sugar for babies or toddlers

Dinner time for a baby at home
Dinner time for a baby at home Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

This week the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee in the US released guidelines for feeding babies and toddlers for the first time ever.

Within the 800-page report, put together by a panel of experts, are some important take-outs for parents with the key message being: "every bite counts."

"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," the report states.

"This report continues the traditional emphasis on individuals ages 2 years and older and, for the first time, expands upon it to reflect the growing body of evidence about appropriate nutrition during the earliest stages of life."

Absolutely no added sugar 

One of the biggest guidelines within the 2020 infant recommendations: avoid any amount of added sugar in the first two years of life. Full stop. 

"Avoid foods and beverages with added sugars during the first 2 years of life," the committee said. "The energy in such products is likely to displace energy from nutrient-dense foods, increasing the risk of nutrient inadequacies.

"Moreover, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is linked with increased risk of overweight or obesity."

What does this mean, exactly? The committee found that 70 per cent of added sugar intake comes from five categories:

  • Sweetened beverages
  • Desserts and sweet snacks
  • Coffee and tea (with sugary additions)
  • Candy and sugars
  • Breakfast cereals and bars

Rather than giving your toddler any of the foods above, pediatrician Dr. Steven Abrams of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) told CNN to focus on foods and drinks with natural sugars.

"Apples and oranges all contain sugar but they also provide fibre and overall nutrition," Abrams said to CNN. "Fruit juice, especially for kids in the first year of life, is a source of sugar without many nutrient benefits. So this should always be avoided."

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Breastfeeding 

For babies under four-months-old, the report suggested that breastfeeding is best, where possible. (And it should be noted, breastfeeding is not always possible). The key message is that human milk or infant formula are the babies "primary sustenance" until about age six months. 

​"Being breastfed may reduce the risk of overweight or obesity, type 1 diabetes, and asthma, compared to never being breastfed," the report stated. 

"Evidence also suggested that a longer duration of any breastfeeding is associated with lower risk of type 1 diabetes and asthma."

The committee also made recommendations for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding - with eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids a key benefit.

Allergies 

The committee found that feeding peanuts and eggs "in an age appropriate form in the first year of life - after four months of age" could reduce the risk of food allergy. It said the evidence wasn't as strong for other allergens such as nuts and seafood, but also there was no harm. 

Since breast milk doesn't contain enough Vitamin D, the report found that many babies and toddlers aren't getting enough and this could be supplemented in their diet. 

The experts also recommend parents feed babies plenty of food that are rich in iron and zinc after they are six-months-old. 

"The reviews also support guidance to provide foods that are rich in iron and zinc during the second 6 months of life among breastfed infants, and the need to provide CFBs that contain adequate amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids." 

While the above recommendations are not unexpected, it highlights just how important good nutrition is in the first two years of life. 

As highlighted in the report: "Early life nutritional exposures have emerged as an etiological risk factor associated with later-life chronic disease risk."

If you have any concerns about your baby's health or diet, always speak to your GP or a paediatrician.