Dietary guidelines for infants and toddlers. What are the new nutrition recommendations for babies? Here’s what they say about breastfeeding and first foods, including added sugar and salt for infants.
For the first time, the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) has been revised to include infants and toddlers as of December 2020.
While the guidelines are updated every five years, this is the first time there have been specific recommendations for the littlest of our population.
The broadest message of the DGA is to “follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage”, but what does this mean for your babe?
Let’s break down the highlights of infant and toddler dietary recommendations under this new update.
Basic guidelines for infants and toddlers
The new guidelines specific to babies are listed below.
If you’ve been part of the PBJ family for a bit, you’re likely already familiar with many of these as they’re things we talk about regularly.
- Infants should be breastfed exclusively for a minimum of the first six months of life. Breastfeeding should continue for at least the first year or longer if desired.
- If breastmilk is not an option, babies should instead be provided iron-fortified infant formula for the same duration.
- Babies should be started on a liquid vitamin D supplement starting as soon as possible after birth. Note that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a 400 IU/day for breastfed infants as this nutrient is not usually transferred adequately through breastmilk.
- Infants should be introduced to nutrient-dense first foods at around six months. This includes the potential allergens: peanuts, eggs, cow’s milk, tree nuts, wheat, soy, shellfish, and fish.
- First foods should also emphasize iron and zinc for breastfed babies.
- Toddlers should limit saturated fat intake to fewer than 10% of overall daily calories.
- Foods and beverages high in added sugar and sodium should be avoided, especially for kids under 2.
- Processed and high-fat meats are briefly discussed, suggesting that they should be replaced with beans, peas, and lentils to meet protein needs.
- There is an emphasis on “making every bite count” for babies and encouraging a healthy dietary pattern as baby transitions to solid foods.
How to reduce added sugar
With the need for nutrient-dense foods to support growth and development, infants and toddlers have no room for empty calories in their diet.
Added sugar takes up space while offering no beneficial vitamins or minerals for your babe, and should therefore be avoided as much as possible.
Note that added sugar isn’t the same as the natural sugar found in fruits. Think of added sugar as the sugar you add to a recipe when baking a cake.
Or in the commercial sense, sugar added to the recipe to sweeten the product. This often includes snack foods marketed for young kids.
Look at the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel on packaged foods to determine whether, and how much, sugar has been added.
A good way to avoid added sugar in baby’s diet is to choose whole foods as much as possible, and to make more foods at home.
Here are some no-sugar-added recipes that can be great for baby-led weaning and toddlers alike:
- Vegan Smash Cake
- Chia Seed Jam
- Peanut Butter Chocolate Chia Pudding
- PBJ Baby-Led Weaning Muffins
- Sweet Cherry Lime Popsicles
- No-Bake Pumpkin Balls
How to reduce added salt
Salt, which is primarily sodium chloride, is an essential mineral. When it’s iodized, it also provides the essential nutrient iodine.
Studies have found that kids 6-12 months old get most of their salt, or sodium, from commercial baby food, soups, and mixed pasta dishes.
Toddlers also get much of their sodium from processed foods, like hot dogs, cheese, dairy, and take-out foods.
Daily sodium limits are less than 1 gram of salt (0.4 grams sodium) for babes up to 12 months, or 2 grams of salt (0.8 grams sodium) for toddlers age 1-3 years.
Tips for limiting added salt include:
- Choose mostly whole plant-based foods
- Make baby food at home
- Buy plain whole grains rather than flavored and boxed varieties
- Buy no-salt-added packaged and canned foods
- Drain and rinse canned beans before serving
- Use herbs or salt-free seasonings instead of salt for homemade foods
- Don’t buy ready-to-eat cereals that are not made specifically for babies, as these may be high in sodium
Your baby’s sodium needs will generally be met through breast milk or formula.
The dietary guidelines for infants and toddlers may now be more clear, but we know our savvy plant-based parents already know most of them. We hope this gave you a better understanding of the new nutrition recommendations for babies.
Chime In: Are there areas of the DGA for infants that you can improve upon within your own family? What other questions do you have about infant nutrition?
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