In our country, it is extremely common for kids as young as one (possibly younger) to snack on sugary foods - cookies, cake, fruit snacks, flavored yogurt, etc. In my opinion, it has simply been the belief that these are "kiddie foods" or "fun foods" or maybe even that allowing your baby or toddler to consume sugar will not have an effect on their health. Common questions I hear about kids and sugar include: When can I introduce sugar to my baby? Is all sugar created equal? How much sugar is appropriate to give to my baby? I have asked these same questions while pregnant with my daughter! Well, today I hope I can answer these questions for you and more, and shed some light on this important subject!
NATURAL SUGAR VS ADDED SUGARS
There is a lot of confusion among parents (and non-parents!) that fruits and some vegetables contain sugar and therefore they should not be consumed. While it is true that fruit does contain sugar, that sugar is natural and is not the same as sugar in a processed or refined piece of candy.
The natural sugar is fruit is called fructose. While fructose will still cause a spike and drop in blood sugar, the body's response to this sugar is much different. Fruit - unlike candy, for example - contains many other nutrients including fiber. Fiber helps to minimize rapid effects on blood sugar. This means that the body's response to the blood sugar spike is much more controlled!
Fruit also contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals which help fight disease. Cookies, cake, ice cream and candy do not offer your baby any health benefits.
It is so important to limit added sugars in your child's diet (and our own!). Too much sugar consumed in childhood can lead to health conditions such as:
Risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure and cholesterol
Type 2 diabetes
Cavities and eventually other dental health issues
Aversion to healthy foods
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children do not consume added sugar for the first two years of life (more on that HERE.). It should also be noted that 100% fruit juice contains more sugar than a piece of whole fruit and should be limited or avoided. It is recommended to encourage children to snack on whole fruit instead.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that children and adults should keep their consumption of added sugar to less than 5% (or roughly 6 teaspoons, as recommended by the AAP).
As a parent, it can be so frustrating to find out that sugar is almost everywhere, and is specifically marketed to kids. Even more frustrating is that sugar is not always clearly stated on food labels. Here are some alternative names for sugar to watch out for:
Fruit juice concentrates
High-fructose corn syrup
Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
It is not expected that your child will never have sugar! However, I believe that sugar and sugary treats are best saved for celebrations and special events. Conversations with your children about food and health can be had as your child grows older, helping them to understand why healthy food is a regular thing, and the sweet treats are not. Those conversations are not easy but can be made simple if had regularly over time. I also believe that when your child is an appropriate age, it can be a huge benefit to get them involved! Have them come with you to the grocery store, allow them to pick out some vegetables that they think look good, have them help you cook. They will love smelling the food as it cooks, and eating what they prepared. For kids, that can be extremely fun and rewarding! Have them help you prepare healthy food as well as treats.
Fortunately, there are may ways to sweeten yours and your baby's treats and snacks without added sugar! Some natural sweeteners include:
Berries and other fruits
Natural nut butter
Pure maple syrup
I hope this helps answer some questions you may have about sugar and sugar in children's diets. Leave me a comment and let me know your baby's favorite foods! My daughter is OBSESSED with blueberries at the moment. Follow me on Instagram to see her adorably shoving them into her mouth!