Sugar in baby foods
Being an increasingly time-poor society, reaching for commercially made purees, pouches and packets of foodstuff for our little ones can be of huge help.
But what is the quality of food we are feeding our kidlets? Are we doing more harm than good?
Research from the U.K. and Canada found many pre-made foods designed for babies and toddlers were lacking in nutrients, taste and texture diversity, and often high in sugar and salt.1-2 At a time in life when food preference is being shaped, this is concerning.
Excess added sugar intake is linked to a variety of chronic health conditions. It also serves no purpose in helping little ones grow big and strong, impacting, for example, the health of the heart, teeth and brain.
But what is the quality of commercially made baby and toddler foods here in Australia?
Nutritional profile of pre-made Australian baby and toddler foods
As babies have an inherent inclination for sugary and salty flavours, it would be assumed that products with high levels of added sugar and salt would be preferred over less sweet and bitter flavours.
To assess whether this is reflected in what is available to parents for purchase, an Australian team of researchers analysed the nutritional profiles of 309 commercially prepared baby and toddler foods typically found in Australian supermarkets.3
Manufactured mostly by Heinz, Rafferty’s Garden and McCallum Industries (i.e. Only Organic), a majority of the products were fruit-based to offer the appealing sweet flavour. But 23% had sugar added, which is not ideal.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that children under the age of two years consume no added sugar whatsoever. None. Zero. Zilch.
Yet, a 120g serve Only Organic Creamy Rice Pudding, recommended for babies ages 9 months and older, lists sugar as the third ingredient, packing a whopping 2.5 teaspoons (11.4g) of sugar.
The researchers found most of the products analysed were fruit-based. Whole fruit is great for kids, but fruit in every meal makes every meal sweet, and the lack of diversity in tastes and flavours may result in a preference for the sweet stuff. A preference that could continue well into adulthood.
Be sugar savvy
Baby and toddler’s snacks as well can be packed with the sweet stuff. So, be sugar savvy and read the ingredient list for any added sugar (there are over 60 names, so read the list closely!). Check the nutrition panel and know the label must state the product is ‘sweetened’ if the sugar amount is over 4g per 100g.
In addition, try to encourage a diverse selection of tastes and textures, and supercharge our little superheroes with real, whole foods. Ensure there isn’t a fruit ingredient in every single meal so taste buds become accustomed to savoury, even slightly bitter, flavours.
If you are having trouble getting your little one to eat or wish to limit their exposure to added sugar, check out this advice from Damon and be sure to seek some guidance from a qualified nutritionist or dietician. And as your kids get a little older, we’ve some great sugar swap ideas for you to try!
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)
- Garcia, AL Raza, S Parrett, A & Wright, CM 2013 ‘Nutritional content of infant commercial weaning foods in the UK’, Archives of Disease in Childhood, vol. 98, pp. 793–797.
- Elliott, CD 2011, ‘Sweet and salty: Nutritional content and analysis of baby and toddler foods’, Journal of Public Health, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 63–70.
- Dunford, E, Louie, J, Byrne, R, Walker, K, & Flood, V 2015, ‘The Nutritional Profile of Baby and Toddler Food Products Sold in Australian Supermarkets’, Maternal & Child Health Journal, vol. 19, no. 12, pp. 2598-2604.