6 Tips for Reducing your LO’s Sugar Intake
While sugar is sweet, it's not all that sweet (at least for your health!). Consuming excess amounts of sweets can have some serious side effects. Studies have suggested that a higher intake of added sugar is associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors.
A study done in 2014, showed that:
- Most US adults consume more added sugar than is recommended for a healthy diet
- There is a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for CVD mortality
- Some of the serious side effects include hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions (such as cavities and inflammation)
Eating excessive amounts of sugar is just as dangerous for children as it is for adults. In fact, The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that children aged two and younger should have no added sugar in their diet at all.
If you want to take a closer look at your LO’s sugar intake and build a healthier relationship with sugar, here are a few tips:
1. Use the Flavor-Window: The concept of the “flavor-window” is emphasized in the book First Bite, by Bee Wilson, an acclaimed food writer, historian, and author. Wilson says that “infants will accept just about any new flavor you present to them during the window of [4-7 months].” Since many babies begin solids at around 5-6 months of age, this is a great time to introduce new flavors to your LO.
2. Focus on whole, unprocessed desserts/snacks: Do the best you can to limit your little one’s intake of sugar for the first 12 months. Always read nutrition labels and check if there are any added/refined sugars. Focus on giving your child unprocessed, whole, nutritious snacks. If you need inspiration, check out these 7 kid-friendly dessert recipes.
3. Decide how Often Your Family Eats Dessert: Set how many times a week you and your family will eat dessert. You could try offering dessert semi-regularly, between 2-3 times a week. When you offer dessert semi-regularly, your child will accept dessert as a normal part of their diet, like any other food, and are less likely to develop a “sugar obsession.”
4. Don’t Use Dessert as a Reward: Using terms like, “If you eat your (fruit/ veggies) you can have dessert”, can actually cause more harm than good for your LO. A 2008 Study Review by Birch and Ventura shows that children learn to prefer the reward food over the "have to eat" food. The study found that “when children were rewarded for consumption of a target food (e.g., ‘if you eat your broccoli you can have dessert’), intake of the target food in that setting increased, but preference for that food decreased. Additionally, “when children were pressured to eat (e.g. ‘you must finish your soup’), children made more negative comments about the soups they were pressured to eat, consumed less of them and had decreased preference for the soups”. Therefore, instead of food rewarding, you can try offering tasty vegetables often and model healthy eating.
5. Trust Your LO with Desserts: Just like any other food, try letting your LO eat as much or as little as they want. If you rarely or never offer dessert, when you first start offering it, your child may eat a lot more than you expect. Trust your baby and their tummy! Your LO will learn to eat an appropriate amount and regulate sugar intake on their own.
6. Moderation is Key: In moderation, sugar can play a role in your little one’s diet. Demonizing and avoiding sugar at all costs can cause toddlers to become sugar-obsessed.
Bottom Line: It’s All About Balance!
It’s near impossible to completely cut out sugar, however you can reduce your LO’s intake. As Wilson points out, kids can become dependent on sweet tastes (especially during that flavor window), therefore it's crucial to give your child whole, unprocessed foods at a young age. By reducing your little one’s daily sugar intake, naturally sweet things such as fresh fruit becomes even more delicious. You can always make time for “dessert nights” 2-3x per week, but enjoy in moderation! Balance is key in helping your child establish a healthy relationship with sweets.
- “7 Healthy Desserts That Even Kids Will Love.” Cooking Light, www.cookinglight.com/eating-smart/healthy-desserts-for-kids.
- “Children Should Eat Less than 25 Grams of Added Sugars Daily.” American Heart Association, newsroom.heart.org/news/children-should-eat-less-than-25-grams-of-added-sugars-daily?preview=f7c7.
- Wilson, Bee, and Annabel Lee. First Bite: How We Learn to Eat. Basic Books, 2016.
- Ventura, A. K., & Birch, L. L. (2008). Does parenting affect childrens eating and weight status? International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 5(1), 15. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-5-15.
- Yang, Quanhe. “Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality.” JAMA Internal Medicine, American Medical Association, 1 Apr. 2014, jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1819573.