Recommendations about sugar for babies

Sugar seems to be one of those topics that brings out strong opinions in parents on both sides of the argument. Whether your baby has had sugar or not does not make you a good or bad parent. There are no bad foods. Yes, there are foods that are more nutritious than others, there are some foods to be avoided, and there are some foods that can make us feel bad.

We also don’t want to label food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because we want our children to have a positive relationship with food. We don’t want them growing up to think that they need to restrict foods to be healthy, to fear foods, or to hold certain foods up on a pedestal. Sugar is just another food that can be part of a balanced diet as they grow.

Recommendations about sugar for babies

The recommendations about sugar for babies is for your information. It’s not to shame you or to make you feel guilty, or even proud. It’s available so that you can make an informed choice when it comes to feeding your baby. We’re all just trying to do our best as parents!

Sugar and sweeteners are on the list of foods to avoid in the first year. Babies only have small stomachs, so ideally we want to be maximising their nutrient intake before they turn one. It won’t be the end of the world if your baby ends up with some sugar, but avoiding sugar is a goal to aim for.

Why excess sugar can be a problem

Amniotic fluid, breastmilk, and formula are sweet, so babies have a natural predilection for sweet tastes. If babies are constantly exposed to sweet foods, they tend to want them more often, or will develop a preference for sweet over other flavours (read Is your baby developing a sweet tooth?).

This is the window of time when we want to expose them to a rainbow of foods and a variety of tastes and textures to help expand their palates. Laying the foundation for adventurous eating starts now, so first foods really do matter.

While your baby is going through a massive period of growth, we need every bite to count to help them grow to their full potential. You also want to be ensuring those new little teeth don’t develop cavities.

Different sugars to be avoided

When we talk about the sugars to be avoided, we’re not talking about fruit. Fruit contains natural sugars, but also comes packed with fibre and nutrients (juice is however still to be avoided). Added sugar includes (but is not limited to):

  • Table sugar (white, brown, raw)
  • Honey (this is to be avoided in the first year anyway)
  • Maple syrup
  • Agave syrup or nectar
  • Golden syrup
  • Treacle
  • Molasses
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Fruit juice extract or concentrate
  • Barley malt
  • Cane juice
  • Caramel
  • Carob syrup
  • Demerara
  • Dextrin or dextrose
  • Palm sugar
  • Rice malt syrup
  • Coconut sugar
  • Muscovado

Added sugars can be found in everyday items

Sugar isn’t only added to obvious foods such as cakes and biscuits. Unfortunately, there are many everyday products on the market for babies that contain added sugars—even things you wouldn’t expect to find it in! To focus your efforts on reducing or avoiding sugar, the foods to look out for are:

  • Breakfast cereals
  • Breads and baked foods
  • Crackers
  • Flavoured yoghurts
  • Sauces
  • Dips and spreads
  • Commercial baby food

How to avoid added sugars in common processed foods

Just because a product is available and aimed at babies, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s in your baby’s best health interests. There may even be claims that something is sugar-free on the front of the packaging, so always look at the ingredient list on the back as well. Sugar can come in many guises, so if you’re not sure what an ingredient is, look it up. Food manufacturers can be quite sneaky!

  • Replace processed breakfast cereals with porridge made from either oats, chia seeds, or quinoa
  • Look for bread without added sugar, and opt for sourdough or sprouted
  • Search for baby-friendly rice crackers without added sugar (or salt, which is another food to be avoided in the first year)
  • Buy plain yoghurt and add fresh or stewed fruits
  • Look at the ingredients on pasta sauces and condiments, and find the ones without sugar
  • Compare the ingredients on dips, nut and seed butters, and any other spreads
  • Even the organic jars and pouches of baby food can contain added sugar (which may be in the form of fruit juice), so look for ones that only contain wholefoods and no additives. A bonus is if you can find savoury meals that aren’t sweetened with fruit, so that your baby doesn’t start to refuse the foods that don’t taste sweet.

A final word about sugar for babies 

Of course we would all like to make every meal from scratch, but life gets in the way sometimes and we need something quick and convenient. Sometimes it’s not always easy to find sugar-free options, or perhaps it’s not in your budget to buy the sugar-free version. If it’s the occasional item, be kind to yourself, there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, if you find that most foods have even a small amount of sugar in them (they all add up over the day), then it might be time to explore adding some more homemade or wholefood options. It might not come easy, but it can be something to work towards. One baby meal at a time.

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