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Sugar…For a lot of parents, it seems to be that really tricky thing to manage in your baby’s diet. How much is too much? Or when should you even introduce it to your baby? Does it actually make kids hyperactive? This blog is here to answer all these questions and more! Read along for some tips for managing sugar with young children.
Naturally occurring sugars can be found in foods like milk, fruit and vegetables. These foods should be introduced early on in your baby’s solids journey because of the range of nutrients they also offer.
However, added sugars really have no role in your baby’s diet.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend preparing foods for your baby with no added sugars. Whilst these guidelines do not recommend a particular age for when to introduce sugar to your baby, the generally accepted recommendation in first world countries is to hold off until they are 2 years old. Here’s why:
The first 24 months of your child’s life is a really important period of growth and development. Because children at this age don’t eat large amounts, every bite counts. This means, it’s important to pack their diets with nutrient rich foods, rather than foods and beverages with added sugars, that provide lots of kilojoules but little nutrients.
The World Health Organisation recommends reducing sugar intake to less than 10% of your child’s daily energy intake. This is because diets higher in sugar are related to poorer health consequences such as childhood obesity and tooth decay.
A delayed introduction to sugar is also an important part of developing your baby’s acceptance of other flavours. The first two years of your baby’s life are a critical time in developing their flavour preferences (often referred to as the first 1000 days when coupled with the time in gestation). It’s in our innate biology to prefer sweet tastes, but research shows that early exposure to sugar leads to a preferred taste for sugary food throughout later life. Instead, we need to optimise this opportunity to lay the foundations for healthy eating by offering a range of foods and flavour, including bitter foods and vegetables.
Don’t fret though, babies have very sensitive taste buds, so there is no need to add extra sugar to foods to make them sweeter!
And if your baby has a lick of ice cream here and there, it really won’t harm them.
Whilst there is no exact amount to recommend, the Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest to limit the amount of foods and beverages with added sugars for children and adults alike.
The World Health Organisation suggests limiting the intake of sugar to less than 10% of your child’s total energy intake.
This can be tricky to estimate and navigate, given how hard it is to avoid sugar in foods. Sugar is sneakily added into many foods, disguised under a multitude of different names, like dextrin, fructose, and maltose. Be sure to check food labels for sugar as an ingredient and the sugar content in the nutrition information panel.
However, there is no need to strictly eliminate sugar from your toddler’s diet. Not only is that extremely difficult and unnecessary, instilling healthy dietary patterns in your children means incorporating balance in the foods they eat. A little bit of sugar every now and then is totally fine!
Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence to say that too much sugar will cause your toddler to become hyperactive! The sugar rush is actually a myth.
Instead, children are usually eating these higher amounts of sugar at events like birthday parties or Halloween, where the excitement of these events actually contribute to their increased energy; not the food they are eating.
Rather, when your toddler eats a high amount of sugar, they’re more likely to experience a spike in energy followed by a drastic drop as their blood sugar levels drop. It can leave them feeling tired, drained of energy and/or sluggish.
On the other hand, frequent consumption of high levels of sugar can hinder your toddler’s intake of important nutrients. If toddlers fill up on high-sugar, nutrient-poor foods, it leaves less room for the nutritious food they need for growth and development.
This can eventually lead to increased risk of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The answer to this very popular question is a big NO! High sugar foods should NEVER be used as a reward or put on a pedestal and here’s why:
Reinforcing positive behaviour with food can establish a connection between emotions and food rewards. This emotional association with food can lead to potential issues when food is relied upon for comfort and emotional regulation.
When foods are offered as a reward, they become more appealing, making your toddler want more and more of them.
Food rewards can interfere with your child’s natural hunger and fullness cues, encouraging them to eat when they are not hungry.
We teach our children to limit the amount of sugary foods they eat, yet we let them indulge in them when they’ve done something good? Doesn’t make sense, does it?
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends having foods with added sugars, ‘sometimes and in small amounts’. Special occasions fall under ‘sometimes’ where they can enjoy that extra bit of sugar!
Being too strict on your toddler will only cause more frustration, and ruin the fun for both of you.
Don’t beat yourself up over the extra sugar they may eat at birthday parties, carnivals, and Christmas. These are only a couple days of the year. What’s more important is looking at the bigger picture and the healthy eating habits you instil in your child every other day.
Balancing sugar in a toddler’s diet can be a confusing task, but offering a variety of foods from the main food groups in early life and limiting added sugars, can prepare your children for living out healthy eating habits into their adulthood. The first 24 months of your baby’s life are a critical time for growth and development, as well as flavour preference.
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My baby is ready for solids - do I puree feed? BLW? A combo of the two? Which is better for Bub? Which is better for me? Arghh help!
An article to reassure you and give you the confidence whichever mode of feeding you choose for your little one as they embark on their solids adventure!