When Can Babies Eat Sweets?
As the world becomes more focused on infants and the nutrition they need to grow well and develop a healthy brain, you might be wondering where sweet treats fit into the mix.
The latest recommendations from the American Heart Association (AHA) is that babies and young toddlers should not receive any sweets in the first 2 years of life. Although I agree with this stance about sweets for baby, I am not suggesting you skip the birthday cake.
And, if your young child has eaten (or will eat) sweets, I don’t want you to feel terribly guilty, either.
I do, however, want you to know the consequences of babies eating sweets on a regular basis.
The Stats on Babies Eating Sweets
As it stands, babies and young toddlers are receiving far too many sweets. These statistics from the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study in 2008 capture what’s going on in this area of nutrition for babies and young toddlers:
- Between 9 and 11 months, 43% of babies have one sweet food each day
- 72% of children between ages 1 and 2 years are eating sweets everyday
- At one year of age, 30-40% of total daily beverage intake is for fruit drinks, and up to 10% of drinks come from carbonated beverages
- By 15 months of age, 30% are consuming sugar-sweetened beverages
- By 18 months, most children are eating something sweet every day
- And, while I don’t have a research study or stats to back this up, I am pretty sure that more babies and toddlers are slurping coffee drinks from their parents today than ever before.
Between 18 and 20 months of age, the young toddler’s diet is more like the adult diet—similar to the foods his or her parent eats—and has been associated with a higher likelihood of weight gain and obesity later on in childhood.
After all, babies and toddlers aren’t selecting these foods themselves!
They eat what they are given.
4 Reasons to Stay Away from Sweets for Baby
1. Sweets Contain Low Levels of Nutrients
Sweet food such as cookies, candy and sugary cereals, and sweet drinks like juice and soda, are full of sugar, which isn’t a nutrient young children need.
Most concerning is the sacrifice of important nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, and the short-shrift fruits and vegetables get when sugary foods are included in the diet of babies and toddlers.
Given that nutrients are in high demand in the first 2 years of life, filling those little tummies with sugar does nothing to help nourish your young one’s body or brain.
2. Sweets for Baby Provide Too Many Calories
Often, sugary foods are also high in calories. Diets high in calories are associated with weight gain and obesity. This holds true for very young children, as well.
The rate of obesity sits at 8% in children under 2 years of age, according to the CDC, highlighting food as an influencer on weight in this age group. When babies eat sweets they are at higher risk for excess weight gain.
Of course, how infants and young toddlers are fed is a factor as well.
3. Eating Sweets Strengthens the Preference for Sweet Food
Sweet food begets sweet food. Infants are born with an established preference for sweet flavors (amniotic fluid is sweet and so is breast milk) and a dislike for bitter foods like vegetables.
The foods that babies eat outside the womb, particularly if they are high in sugar and fat, may reinforce this propensity for sweet foods.
During the first 5 years of life when children are establishing their food preferences, frequent exposure to sweetened food or beverages may encourage a preference for these foods.
4. Sweets Increase the Risk for Cavities
Tooth decay can happen when your child’s teeth come in contact with too much sugar. It can even happen before your child has teeth.
Why? Sugar helps bacteria grow and this causes the teeth to decay. Many of the liquids that young children drink contain sugar, including milk, formula, and fruit juices.
Eating snacks with sugar also places more sugar on your child’s teeth, increasing the likelihood of decay. Make sure you brush your child’s teeth every day to lower the risk of tooth decay.
Should babies eat sweets regularly?
Parents of young children should dial down the sweets when possible. And that’s not easy!
Our food world is full of opportunities for babies to eat sweets—find out how you can manage the sugar in your child’s diet throughout his or her childhood.
Starting on the feeding journey with your baby? Check out my step-by-step guide to starting solids for the latest information, from food to feeding methods, allergies and more! Get The Smart Mom’s Guide to Starting Solids now!