Can babies have sugar? If so, when and how much? If not, why? Keep reading to find all the answers.
As you may have noticed, I work really hard to keep this is a judgment free zone. Therefore, I want to start with this important message – This post is not meant to make you feel guilty or ashamed in any way if you’ve introduced sugar earlier than the recommendation. But as always, I want to provide you with evidence-based nutrition advice so that you can make a well-informed decision that’s best for you and your family!
When to Introduce:
Don’t you just love biting down into a juicy, sweet fruit, especially if it’s in season?! Fruits are such wonderful sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. You see where I’m going with this, right? You can introduce your baby to fruits as soon as they start solids. In fact, it’s a great idea to offer your baby fruits and/or vegetables at every meal.
Fruits or vegetables first?
Now, there is great debate over whether or not it’s best to delay offering fruits. It is true that children are born with an innate preference for sweets. Amniotic fluid is sweet and so is breastmilk. Research also shows that sweet foods actually have a calming and relaxing effect on babies. So does this mean you should you hold off on introducing fruits?
The short answer is no. As American Academy of Pediatrics states, “there’s no evidence that your baby will develop a dislike for vegetables if fruit is given first. Babies are born with a preference for sweets, and the order of introducing foods does not change this. ”
What’s most important here is to focus on introducing a wide variety of foods EARLY and OFTEN, during the weaning period. This will be tremendous in shaping their food preference from early on. Research shows that the number of different fruits and vegetables offered and the frequency of change are essential. In other words, repeated exposure as well as serving food in different ways are key.
Since babies are born with innate preference for sweets, they will most likely accept fruits much more enthusiastically than vegetables. But be persistent and keep offering those vegetables during this sensitive window of opportunity when babies are most willing to try and accept new flavors and textures. If you’d like to see a list of all the foods I introduced to my son during our first 3 months of starting solids, click here.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m passionate about providing parents with evidence-based nutrition advice. Now, what you do with that information is entirely up to you. The reality is every child is different and so are family dynamics. What I like to encourage is be informed – Learn what you need to learn. Then follow your heart. You know your child better than anyone else and you are the best advocate for your precious little one.
Having said this, I want to share with you my personal experience and approach to this topic of fruits vs. vegetables. I noticed very early on that whenever I served fruits to my son, they were all that he wanted, and he ABSOLUTELY refused to eat anything else (I’m talking complete meltdown). You can imagine the huge dilemma I was faced with!
How could I expose him to a wide variety of foods during this critical time period when he wanted to have nothing to do with them in the presence of fruits? That’s when I decided that since I’m in charge of WHAT to serve, I’d stop offering fruits temporarily and focus on serving those foods that babies are not innately drawn to, particularly veggies.
After about 2 months of doing this, I simply offered the fruits along with the rest of his meals without make a big deal out of it. Yes, he normally ate them first but he also proceeded to eat the other foods as well!
All this to say, regardless of how you get there, do keep the big picture in mind, which is to expose your baby to a wide variety of flavors and textures during the first year of life!
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that juice should not be introduced until at least 1 year of age. While the only ingredient in the juice may be fruit, it is a very concentrated source of sugar, and it also lacks fiber, which helps slow down the absorption of sugar in the body.
It’s also much easier to overconsume, which may lead to malnutrition, diarrhea, abdominal distention, and tooth decay. So there really is no need to rush to introduce fruit juice. Focus on offering whole fruits. If you really want to introduce it, then you can dilute it with water. Keep in mind, 1-3 year olds should be limited to no more than 4 ounces a day.
The American Heart Association recently updated their recommended sugar intake to say that kids under 2 should avoid eating or drink any added sugars. I know we’re focusing on babies in this post but for those of you with older children, the recommendation is no more than 25 grams or 6 teaspoons of sugar per day for children ages 2-18 years.
What are added sugars? They are sugars that are added to foods or drinks during processing. This doesn’t include sugars that are naturally found in foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products (e.g. milk, yogurt). Click here to see the list of added sugars.
I do want to point out that it’s nearly impossible to avoid added sugars until 2 years of age. Added sugars are found in a lot of foods that aren’t sweet, like bread, crackers, tortillas, spaghetti sauce, etc. So it’s most likely that your baby or toddler has already had them. What I like to encourage parents is to read the labels on packaged products and try to limit as much as possible without losing your sanity.
Absolutely NO honey before 1. This also applies to baked goods. Don’t do it! Why? Because it contains clostridium botulinum spores, which can colonize in infants immature gut, which will lead to botulism.
Why Should Sugar Be Limited (especially during the early years)
- It contains too many calories without any nutritional benefit. Babies have TINY tummies so filling their bellies with sugary foods can leave very little room for wholesome foods, like fruits, veggies, and whole grains. This is especially concerning when they crowd out foods that provide essential nutrients, like iron and zinc, during this critical developmental stage.
- The first 1000 days of life is so so important l in setting the foundation for healthy eating habits. Research shows that early exposure to sugary (or other highly palatable) foods may lead to increased preference for them as well as a preference for higher levels of sugar in foods as they grow older.
- Children who eat too many sweets tend to eat fewer healthy foods and the likelihood of them developing risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity and elevated blood pressure, rises.
- Leads to increased risk for cavities.
- Instead of juice, offer soft fruits
- Instead of ice cream, offer whole milk plain yogurt with fruit(s)
- Instead of sugary cereal, offer those that contain very little to no added sugars: some examples include toasted oats (like Barbara’s Honest O’s Original), Kamut puffs (we really like this one), Love Grown Power O’s Original
- Instead of using sugar, maple syrup, or other added sugars in baking, use fruits – like banana, unsweetened applesauce, dried fruits with no added sugars, date syrup, etc.
I know it’s SO difficult to avoid sugar when it’s all around us. But knowing what you now know, try to avoid offering juice and foods with added sugars as much as possible. If your baby has already had these foods, please please don’t feel too guilty or be hard on yourself. Focus on the changes you can make moving forward. And remember to use your baby’s lack of awareness to your advantage. It will become much more challenging to refrain from sugar completely (which I don’t recommend doing anyway) once they reach around 2 years of age. In my next post, I’ll be sharing some tips on how to handle sugar for toddlers and older children!