A ban on sugar for toddlers? New guidance urges vigilance

Recent U.S recommendations tell parents that foods containing added sugars are a no-no for infants and toddlers under 2.

When new federal guidelines were issued recently on how much, or how little, processed sugar infants and toddlers should consume, parents might have understandably rolled their eyes.

The recommendation was zero. That’s right, nada.

In their first guidance for this age group, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health jointly published recommendations in December that infants and toddlers under 2 should consume no processed sugar.  Their rationale: Research has linked sugar consumption to childhood obesity and future ailments such as heart disease. The recommendations also urged that babies to age 6 months consume only breast milk.

Eliza Lagerquist, a dietitian at UW Medical Center – Montlake, said the guidelines might not be as onerous as they seem at first glance.

“They did seem sort of shocking, but when you read into them, they are focusing on added sugar in food,” she noted. “For kids under 2, you need to realize: They eat so little actual food that the food they do eat should not be junk food or sweets.”

Many foods considered "healthy," including yogurt, granola, and fruit juices, can contain high volumes of hidden sugars.  Sweeteners are also added to breads, pasta, sauces, salad dressings and crackers. The recommended daily allowance of sugar for children ages 2 to 3 is 24 grams, or 2 tablespoons. 

“I think these guidelines are a way for the entire family to get on board with a healthy diet,” she said.

It will require work by parents – either making more meals and snacks from scratch or carefully reading food labels, she said. Parents should scrutinize ingredient lists for references to brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These guidelines will help people think more about what they eat and feed their young children “rather than just blindly buying whatever is out there,” Lagerquist suggested.

“This all might be harder on older siblings who already have their preferences in place," she said. “But for the younger ones, they are going to eat and develop their preferences from what you feed them.”

Lagerquist acknowledged that humans are wired to like sweet tastes. But that desire can be satisfied with an orange rather than orange soda. And the new guidelines don’t mean there’s been a ban on birthday cakes or treats.

“Deliberately keep the added sugar to sweets you choose rather than having the added sugars in your bread or pasta sauce,” she said.

– Barbara Clements - 253-740-5043, bac60@uw.edu

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