Scaremongering about the evils of sugar and the benefits of hashtag sugarfree is rife these days. But let’s leave the hysteria aside and focus on the facts about sugar for babies.
The UK 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’? And where to find them in babies diets.
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 yoghurt)
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)
What about sugar for babies under two years?
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.
First Steps Nutrition, a UK based nutrition charity explains that “The complementary feeding period aims 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.
Sugar in 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 that many newer products marketed to health-savvy parents 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.
Check out this blog I wrote for Everymum on reading food labels
What about different types of sugar in baby 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.
Here’s a recipe for no-added sugar peanut and banana muffins
Suggestions for keeping sugar low for babies
Offer Savoury Foods. Offer a wide variety of savoury tastes every day alongside naturally sweet flavours like fruit and milk. Expose your babies to sour foods like natural yoghurt 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 yoghurt rather than baby yoghurts (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 isn’t easy to take them away.
READ MORE >>> Are baby food pouches healthy?
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. Babies must get the chance to learn to appreciate these veggies individually.
4 simple swaps to reduce sugar in your baby’s diet
- Swap flavoured baby rice cakes for plain rice cakes with smooth nut butter
- Swap fruit pouches for mashed fresh or cooked fruit or grated fruit
- Swap baby fruit yoghurts for full-fat natural yoghurt with cinnamon and fruit finger food
- Swap baby biscuits for toast with hummus or chia jam
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!
For more no-nonsense advice on weaning your baby check out Ready, Steady, Wean.