For the first time ever, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has released its feeding and dietary recommendations for babies and toddlers. In the lengthy report — the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans — the U.S. advisory panel urges parent to avoid giving their little ones any added sugar for the first two years of their lives.
Earlier this week, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the organization delivering nutritional recommendations to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, released its first report on infant and toddler nutrition. The report looked at the dietary needs of children up to 2 years old, noting that "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 recommends that babies drink either breast milk or infant formula exclusively for the first six months of their lives, at which point it is safe to introduce "complementary foods and beverages."
Once parents and caregivers start to introduce complementary food and beverages, the guidelines recommend offering choices with no added sugar for at least the first two years of a baby's life. "Avoid foods and beverages with added sugars during the first 2 years of life," the report reads. "The energy in such products is likely to displace energy from nutrient-dense foods, increasing the risk of nutrient inadequacies."
The report noted that 70% 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 little ones fruit juices, cookies, or cereal bars, 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 fiber and overall nutrition," Abrams explained 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."
Avocados, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon, and peaches are also low in sugar and contain lots of healthy nutrients, according to Healtlhine. Breast milk also contains natural sugar along with many nutrients that are healthy for babies, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, with immunity boosting properties along with all of the fat, protein, and carbohydrates a baby needs to grow, as the AAP explains.
A 2019 study by the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that nearly all babies and toddlers — fully 98% in the U.S. — were consuming added sugar in their daily diets in foods like yogurt, baked goods, fruit juices, and baby snacks. And early consumption of added sugar can have long-term health ramifications for babies, including obesity, diabetes, asthma, and elevated blood pressure down the line, according to American Academy of Family Physicians.
The importance of good nutrition in the first two years of life is integral to health later on. As the report noted, "Early life nutritional exposures have emerged as an etiological risk factor associated with later-life chronic disease risk."