What do you need to know about sugar and your baby?
Scaremongering about the evils of sugar and the benefits of #sugarfree are rife these days. But let’s leave the hysteria aside and focus on the facts!
The SCAN report (2015) recommends that anyone over two years of age get no more than 5% of their energy from ‘free sugars’. This message of moderation is in stark contrast to the hyped social media messages. Your family does not need to avoid sugar totally to be healthy, it’s not possible to do this anyway!
What are ‘Free Sugars’?
Free sugars include:
All added sugar (table sugar, honey, maple syrup, rice syrup, agave, coconut and date sugar) whether added during manufacturing or after
Lactose and Galactose added to foods and drinks (not those naturally present in milk and yogurt)
All sugars naturally present in fruit and vegetable juices, concentrates, smoothies, purees, pastes, powders and extruded fruit and vegetable products. (not sugar naturally present in whole, mashed or chopped fruits and vegetables)
However, it’s a different story when it comes to children under two and particularly weaning babies. During weaning offer your baby a no added sugar diet.
Sugar During Weaning
First Steps Nutrition, a UK based nutrition charity explains that ” The aim of the complementary feeding period is to accustom infants to a range of flavours and foods so that, when they are in their second year and beyond, they can obtain the majority of their energy and nutrients from a range of healthy foods, preferably with their families”.
Simply put, weaning is a unique opportunity, don’t waste it! Despite this many of the foods and recipes marketed to parents for babies and young kids are sweet tasting and high in free sugars.
Traditional vs Trendy Baby Snacks
Traditional baby foods like Liga and Rusks contain ‘added sugar’ so many parents are careful to avoid these in the first year. Many parents don’t realise however that many newer products marketed to health-savvy parents as containing ‘no nasties‘, ‘no added sugar‘ or ‘refined sugar free‘ are made from fruit juice, fruit puree or fruit paste. These products are therefore sweet tasting and contain free sugars. Even though these products originated from fruit and vegetables, the processing that takes place (heating, pureeing and concentrating) releases the sugar from the cell walls changing it into what we call ‘free sugar’. Making them nutritionally the same as those foods with just ‘sugar’. Preparing your own simple mashed fruits and vegetables will not concentrate the sugars in the same way.
Sugar in Weaning Recipes
Many self-styled ‘weaning experts’ and bloggers have jumped on the ‘sugar free’ bandwagon and promote recipes as #refinedsugarfree. However, like commercially prepared products, homemade, fruit leathers, gummy bears, baby chocolate and muffins containing fruit juices, fruit purees and maple syrup also contain ‘free sugars’ and are unnecessary for small babies. If you’d prefer to give your older baby or toddler homemade products rather than shop bought, offer these moderately but remember that in some cases they are no ‘healthier’ than the shop bought version. The danger is that making a quantity of ‘homemade baby chocolate’ and believing that it’s healthier makes it more tempting to offer it to your baby more often and in larger quantities.
Guidelines for a No Added Sugar Weaning Diet
Offer Savoury Foods. Offer a wide variety of savoury tastes everyday alongside naturally sweet tastes like fruit and milk. Expose your babies to sour foods like natural yogurt and bitter foods like green vegetables in early weaning to help babies learn to like these foods.
Offer Finger Foods. Offer fruit as finger foods or as mashed fruit rather than purees. Many babies starting solids at six months are well able to move onto mashed fruit almost straight away. By seven months, they should certainly be eating mashed rather than pureed fruit.
Serve On The Side. Serve fruit on the side rather than mix it with foods, at least most of the time. For example, offering your baby Weetabix with banana finger food will give your baby the chance to experience both Weetabix and banana separately rather than a bowl of banana flavoured Weetabix!
Grate Rather Than Puree. Grate fruit into food like porridge, muffins, pancakes rather than adding purees. This keeps the structure of the fruit intact and so contains less free sugars.
Avoid Baby Snacks! Your baby doesn’t need baby biscotti, wafers, rusks, but they also don’t need homemade baby chocolate or gummy bears. Suitable finger foods include steamed veggie sticks, strips of soft ripe fruit, veggie pancakes, savoury flapjacks and later soldiers of toast or rice cakes with smooth nut butter, cheese or hummus.
Use Family Foods. Use ordinary everyday family foods rather than special baby products. Weetabix, porridge, Ready Brek rather than fruit-flavoured baby cereals, plain rice cakes rather than fruit-flavoured kids’ varieties, Greek or natural yogurt rather than baby yogurts (regardless of the brand!)
Skip Pouches and Purees. Avoid fruit pouches and commercial fruit purees. These are not the same as offering your baby fruit and once your baby gets a taste for these, it’s difficult to take them away.
Avoid Fruit Juice. Your baby doesn’t need baby fruit juice or flavoured water. Keep offering cooled, boiled water from an open or free flowing beaker. Eventually they will drink it!
Encourage Vegetables. Don’t mix sweet vegetables and fruits with harder to like vegetables like broccoli or spinach. It’s important that babies get the chance to learn to like these veggies individually.
Of course, there’s no need to stress about it. If your baby eats the occasional fruit pouch or fruit flavoured rice cake while out and about, there will be no harm done!