American babies are consuming more sugar than the amount recommended for adults, according to data presented at the American Society for Nutrition on June 10. The study was conducted on US infants from 6 to 23 months of age. It concluded that the consumption of added sugar begins very early on in life, as 61% of infants 6-11 months old and 98% of toddlers 12-18 months old were found to consume added sugar on any given day.

The study found that infants 6-11 months old consume about 0.9 teaspoons of sugar per day, while toddlers 12-18 months consume about 5.5 tsp, and those from 19-23 months of age consume about 7.1 tsp. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends about 100 calories from sugar per day for women, which equates to about 6 tsp of sugar, and 150 calories for men, which translates to about 9 tsp. The average toddler is, therefore, consuming more sugar than the amount recommended for an adult woman each day.

Today, the typical American consumes about 19.5 tsp of sugar per day, or about 2-3 times the average recommended by the AHA. This equals 66 pounds of added sugar consumed per person per year.

High dietary sugar intakes are associated with a variety of medical issues such as obesity, risk of diabetes, mood swings, cavities, higher inflammation, elevated blood pressure, heart disease, kidney damage, and even faster-aging skin. Excessive consumption of sugar can also lower the immune response of the body and make children more vulnerable to disease. Furthermore, research shows that eating sugar produces chemical changes in the limbic system, the brain’s reward center, that leads to feelings of craving and withdrawal.

Yet American children are apparently becoming addicted to sugar even before they can walk or talk, as they begin drinking sweetened fruit beverages and eating sugary snacks before they even reach years of age. In America, children obtain about 16% of their total daily calories just from added sugar. And the earlier the habit of consuming sugar begins, the harder it is to eliminate later on in life.

Cutting sugar out from one’s diet is certainly not easy, but it is doable. One 12-ounce soda alone contains double the daily sugar allowance for most people, so eliminating regular soda from one’s diet may be the first most viable step for many Americans. Parents should avoid feeding their kids sweetened breakfast foods such as cereals and pastries and perhaps switch to fruits or more wholesome and nutritious food items.

The main sources of added sugar consumed by Americans include candy, baked goods, pastries, cereal, dairy products such as ice cream and flavored yogurt, and sugar-sweetened drinks. But added sugar is also present in bread, tomato sauce, canned or boxed soups, peanut butter, and salad dressings. Parents should therefore pay special attention to nutrition labels on food items when making decisions as to which grocery items to purchase.

Parents should clearly try to reinforce healthy eating behavior at a young age. They should avoid processed foods and instead focus on providing their kids with nutrition that is optimal for brain development, such as eggs, greens (which can be blended into smoothies or hidden in meals for picky toddlers), fruits, fish, and nuts and seeds.

Perhaps American parents should find inspiration in the meals prepared by other parents around the world for their toddlers. In Japan, parents will feed their babies okayu, or plain rice porridge. Kenyan parents serve their babies mashed sweet potatoes. Meanwhile, the French and Italians start feeding their babies pureed and mashed vegetables right from the get-go. The earlier on that kids start eating vegetables, the more likely they will continue this habit going forward in their lives.

 

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