When is it appropriate to introduce babies to sugar, and how much can they have? Is it okay to let your baby have sugar? Are all sugars created equal? We’re answering all of your sugar questions in this blog post.
One of the most common questions we receive from parents and caregivers is when babies can be introduced to sugar, and how much is okay to give them. And we had those questions, too! Here’s everything you need to know about sugar and your baby.
Natural vs. Added Sugars
There’s a common misconception that, because fruits (and some vegetables like carrots, beets, and corn) tend to be high in sugar, that your baby shouldn’t be given any until they’re at least one year old.
But the thing is, the sugar in a piece of whole fruit is not quite the same as the sugar in a processed and highly refined candy bar.
Fruit contains fructose, which is a natural sugar. Yes, fructose still causes your blood sugar to spike and drop, but the body responds differently to the sugar in fruit than it does to candy.
Fruit also contains other healthy nutrients that a candy bar does not. Fruit contains fiber (especially when eaten in whole form, with the skin left on), which helps minimize any rapid impacts on blood sugar, resulting in a more controlled blood sugar response.
And don’t forget that whole fruits also contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals known to be disease-fighting. We support including a variety of whole fruits in your babe’s regular diet.
As for cookies, ice cream, and candy bars? Well, they taste good, but they offer no health benefit to your babe.
In fact, regular consumption of added sugars in processed foods like these can have adverse health effects.
Why Limit Added Sugars?
There are a number of reasons why kids (and all of us, really) should limit their consumption of added sugars.
Eating too much added sugar in childhood can lead to:
- Dental caries, or cavities, which can lead to a lifetime of dental health problems
- Heart disease risk factors, like high blood pressure and cholesterol
- Childhood obesity
- Type 2 diabetes
- Not eating enough other healthy foods due to craving and filling up on sugary foods
And as a side note, we do not recommend giving your baby sugar-free products that use diet sugars like saccharin, cyclamate, acesulfame potassium, aspartame, and sucralose.
More research on the long-term health effects of these compounds is needed, but they remain controversial and, in our opinion, there are other ways to minimize your child’s sugar intake.
What Other Experts Say About Kids and Sugar
You might be wondering, what do leading pediatric and health organizations say about babies and sugar?
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most Americans eat way more added sugar than we’re supposed to. In fact, most of us exceed the recommended maximum, getting over 13% of our daily calories from added sugars.
And added sugar intake is especially high among kids. Where are they coming from? Sugar-sweetened beverages like juices and sodas, desserts, and other sweets and baked goods.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that kids avoid added sugar in foods or beverages for at least the first two years. After that, kids should eat no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day.
The AAP also notes that 100% fruit juice – even though it sounds healthier – actually contains more sugar per serving than a piece of whole fruit (and barely any fiber). Kids ages 1-3 should have no more than 4 ounces of 100% fruit juice per day.
Instead, encourage snacking on whole fruits like apples, bananas, oranges, and berries.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that kids and adults should keep their added sugar intake to less than 10% of their daily calories. Even better would be less than 5% (or roughly 6 teaspoons, as recommended by the AAP).
And the American Heart Association (AHA) is also on board with the 6 teaspoon recommendation for kids ages 2-18 years old.
Other Names for Added Sugars
It can be infuriating to find out that added sugar is everywhere, and that many sugary foods are marketed specifically to kids (hello, cartoon characters on sugarbomb cereals).
Sugar isn’t always spelled out on packaged food labels. If you’re curious what else to look for, here are some alternative names you may want to avoid.
- Brown sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt sugar
- Raw sugar
- Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
Alternatives to Added Sugar
We’re not going to pretend like we don’t have a sweet tooth (or teeth!) over here, or that our babes aren’t excited to enjoy sweet treats with us.
We’re also not the sugar police – we just believe it’s best to save added sugar for special occasions as much as possible, and doing the best you can to minimize it on a regular basis… whether you’re 2 or 102.
And fortunately, there are other ways to introduce sweeter foods to your babe with little to no added sugar.
Low or No-Sugar Recipes for Kids
Some of our favorite ways are using naturally sweet ingredients to make simple goodies at home. Here are some links to a few of our favorite recipes.
Chia Jam – Using just two ingredients and capitalizing on the natural sweetness of whole fruit, your babe will never know the difference between this and the commercial sugar-laden jelly.
Almond Butter Banana Popsicles – Perfect for any time of day, these popsicles require 6 ingredients, a blender, and a freezer – using just a tablespoon of optional maple syrup for a little sweetness.
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chia Pudding – This recipe uses unsweetened ingredients and no added sugar, but is so decadent that you won’t know the difference.
Creamsicle Date Shake – These shakes use almond butter, dates, and orange juice to create a perfectly refreshing and healthy shake alternative.
Vegan Smash Cake – This is a great sugar-free, gluten-free, vegan, and kid-approved alternative to a traditional birthday cake for your babe.
PBJ Baby-Led Weaning Muffins – Despite the name, these healthy, vegan, sugar-free muffins are a great snack for any age and use only a few ingredients.
Chime in: What other questions do you have about added sugars and your baby?
Clarissa English says
What are your thoughts on more natural sugar alternatives like stevia? Should that be avoided as well?
Hi Clarissa, stevia is technically regarded as safe, though there aren’t many independent (not industry funded) studies on it, so for us, it’s hard to give it a green light until we know more. We consider this one to be regarded like sugar; used on occasion!
Thanks for the info, I love getting your emails.
I’m always really confused by the whole, eat your fruit whole and not in smoothie type thing.
I know that shop bought smoothies, like the 100% fruit juice you mention, are often full of sugar and my boys rarely have these but I do make my own kinda smoothie once every other week maybe.
It’s usually banana, maybe strawberry, soya yoghurt, almond milk, chia seeds, a dash if lemon juice and a teaspoon of honey. I can get 2 servings for each of the boys out of that.
Is that a good way for the boys to have a sweet treat? They are almost 2 and almost 4.
Hi Emma! We recommend smoothies over juice as smoothies retain the whole fruit, and therefore fiber which keeps you full. We don’t think smoothies need additional sugar most of the time as the fruit keeps them sweet! Your recipe sounds delicious and perfect for your kiddos!
How does (real) maple syrup fit in? Is that considered a natural sweetener, or no..?
Hi Steph, it’s considered an added sweetener just like any other added sugar. We love maple syrup for the taste and that it contains trace vitamins and minerals, but we still limit how often we serve it!
thanks! your tempeh bacon crumbles recipe looks good but includes low-sodium soy sauce and maple syrup – both of which I’ve completed avoided so far. am i being too conservative now that my baby is over 12M..?
Hi Steph– there’s the recommendations and then there’s also real life– totally depends on what you are comfortable with. We prefer avoiding sugar as much as possible for our kids under 2, but also know they will likely get some in packaged/dinner items. I don’t stress too much about small amounts in foods that I make for the family, but it’s also great to avoid all together. For sodium, we still want to be cautious but don’t need to be as concerned as before 1.