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What babies and young children eat and drink has a big impact on their long-term health and development. Added sugar has no nutritious value, and giving it to infants and young children can lead them to fill up on sugar and miss out on more nutrient-dense foods that support their growth, says the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
Sugar consumption early in life has also been tied to later health problems, such as obesity, and may result in children developing a preference for unhealthy foods. (Already dealing with a picky eater? These strategies may help.)
Here's what you need to know to keep added sugar out of your child's diet:
- Know the alternative words for sugar. Some food and drink labels don't list "sugar" as an ingredient but are nevertheless sweetened with some form of it. Common sugar words are those ending in "ose" such as maltose, sucrose, glucose, lactose, fructose (including high-fructose corn syrup), and dextrose. There's also corn sweetener, corn syrup, malt syrup, molasses, honey, fruit juice concentrates, and evaporated cane juice.
- Know what foods and beverages typically contain added sugar. The panel found that the majority of added sugars in Americans' diets come from just five types of food: desserts and sweet snacks, sweetened drinks, sweetened coffee and tea, candy and sugars, and breakfast cereals and bars.
- Go easy on the fruit juice. Fruit juice "drinks" usually contain added sugar. Even 100 percent fruit juice is high in natural sugars and doesn't come with the nutritional benefits of whole fruit. The American Academy of Pediatrics says kids under 12 months should not have juice. Between ages 1 and 3, limit juice to 4 ounces (1/2 cup) a day. Read on for more guidance on juice.
- Naturally sweet foods are okay. Yes, whole foods such as apples and oranges contain sugar, but they also offer fiber, vitamins, and minerals that support your child's healthy growth. Instead of giving your child sugar-sweetened snacks and desserts, opt for foods that are sweet simply because nature made them that way.
Skipping added sugars altogether requires a big shift for many families with young children. Several studies have shown that excess sugar consumption is rampant among the littlest Americans (as well as older kids and adults). Of course, it doesn't help that kids and parents are frequently bombarded with advertising for heavily processed foods, and figuring out which foods and drinks contain added sugars takes some label-reading savvy.
Once your child does turn 2 years old, monitor your toddler's sugar intake. The latest guidance urges Americans of all ages to reduce their added sugar consumption to no more than 6 percent of their daily calories. Since the average 2- or 3-year-old needs around 1,000 calories a day, no more than 60 of those calories should come from sugar. That's about a third of a can of soda.
Learn more about healthy eating for toddlers.
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