Most moms already know that we should avoid giving added sugar to our kids — for health reasons and because it can make them downright hyper. New federal dietary guidelines released this week take a stark approach: saying that kids under 2 should not get any added sugar.
“The science tells us that good nutrition leads to better health outcomes, and the new dietary guidelines use the best available evidence to give Americans the information they need to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “USDA and HHS have expanded this edition of the dietary guidelines to provide new guidance for infants, toddlers, and pregnant and breastfeeding women, helping all Americans to improve their health, no matter their age or life stage.”
Skip The Sugar And Saturated Fats For Babies and Tots
The nutritional guidelines were released in December 2020, and will be reevaluated in five years. Before this, the guidelines hadn’t explicitly mentioned how much sugar the youngest people should — or shouldn’t — eat. But this time, the scientists who make the guidelines were explicit: even a little added sugar is too much.
In addition to limiting sugar — in treats like baked goods, candy and even juice — the guidelines say that kids under two should not get any saturated fat either. Saturated fat, found in fried foods and processed meats, is particularly unhealthy.
To start kids out on the healthiest path possible, here’s what the guidelines recommend: infants should be exclusively breastfed through six months, or formula fed if breastfeeding isn’t working for mom or baby. At six months, parents should start introducing foods with different textures and tastes.
“Encourage infants and toddlers to consume a variety of foods from all food groups,” the guidelines recommend.
Focus On Whole Foods
After babyhood, kids and adults should focus on “nutrient rich foods” throughout a lifetime. That includes foods like fruits, vegetables, whole drains and others that provide lots of nutrients and vitamins.
“Nutrient-dense foods provide vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components and have no or little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium,” the guidelines say. “A healthy dietary pattern consists of nutrient-dense forms of foods and beverages across all food groups, in recommended amounts, and within calorie limits.”
Kids over two should not get more than 10% of their daily calorie intake from added sugar, or from saturated fats. They should limit sodium, too, the guidelines say.
Although that might seem strict, the good news is that within that framework the guidelines give families a lot of leeway to decide what food choices are right for them.
“The Dietary Guidelines provides a framework intended to be customized to individual needs and preferences, as well as the foodways of the diverse cultures in the United States,” the guidelines says.
Recognize This Is An Ideal
In our culture, foods with added sugar and saturated fats are everywhere, even in seemingly healthy foods like whole-grain breads or pasta sauces. That can make limiting sugar and fats to zero really tricky. Don’t worry about being perfect with your kids (or your) dietary intake all the time, but aim to reduce added sugar and saturated fats as much as possible.
Research has shown that even babies get too much added sugar, from foods including yogurts, baked foods and processed baby snacks. Over time, those little bits of added sugar can contribute to health negative impacts.
“The consumption of added sugars among children has been associated with negative health conditions such as cavities, asthma, obesity, elevated blood pressure, and altered lipid profiles,” lead study author Kirsten Herrick, a program director at the Division of Cancer Control and Population Studies with the National Cancer Institute, told CNN in 2019.
“It’s never too early to start,” University of California nutritionist Barbara Schneeman told The L.A. Times. “You have to make every bite count in those early years.”
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Reviewed by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN…