Free sugar in baby food is higher than we realise

21st August 2019 | Posted by: Vanessa Giraud

baby eats water melon not free sugar in baby food The time when a baby starts to transition onto solid foods, is a time when we want to make sure baby is getting good nutrition, and establishing sound habits for the future. To help us make sure baby’s getting the best ingredients, we’re likely to turn to products specifically made for infants by established brands. Manufacturers promote their products not only with child friendly images, but with lists of added vitamins and essential minerals that convince us we’re buying something healthy and age appropriate. Yet often the free sugar in baby food is higher than we realise. That means, it’s higher than is good for baby.

So how much sugar in baby food is acceptable?

The short answer is none. That’s no free sugar at all.

But actually some sugars are better. Milk, fruit and vegetables have natural sugars. They are enclosed in the cell structure of the food and do not cause as much harm as free sugars when eaten as part of a healthy balanced diet.

The sugar that is damaging to both adults and children is ‘free sugar’. These ‘free’ sugars are either added to food, or found naturally in, for example, honey, syrup and fruit juices. They are called ‘free’ because they’re not in the cells of the food.

The advantage of eating an orange, for example, rather than drinking a glass of orange juice, is that it contains fibre, and is more filling. If we eat an orange, we’ll probably only eat one. Yet even if we drink only one glass of juice we will consume more sugar because the juice is from more than one orange. It also lacks the same beneficial level of healthy fibre.

The NHS says:

“Your baby doesn’t need sugar.

By avoiding sugary snacks and drinks (including fruit juice and other fruit drinks), you’ll help prevent tooth decay.”

What damage does sugar do?

With child obesity on the rise and an increasing number of children being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, health professionals are concerned.

The RCPCH (The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health) calls for tougher regulation on the nutritional content of commercial baby foods to protect child health.

As well as risking general health, sugar consumption puts teeth at risk. Dr Carter of the Oral Health Foundation says ,”Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children and adolescents.”

Find good advice from trusted sources

For feeding advice probably mother or mother-in-law is not the best source of information. Like me, she’ll have grown up on rusks and baked beans (not together!) and is likely to have ‘heavy metal generation teeth’.

If you’re responsible for a new baby’s long-term health and well-being, take time to read this excellent advice from the NHS about feeding baby throughout her/his first year. The best food for baby is plain food, that is as close to its natural condition as possible. Parents and carers should also check the list of common allergens and foods to avoid.

An article in The Sunday Times by Jon Ungoed Thomas names companies and their high-sugar products, along with the grams of sugar in a serving.

“Key Facts

Cow & Gate Fruity Porridge (Danone) 10g of sugar in a 25g serving
Aptamil Creamed Porridge (Danone) 9.4g of sugar in a standard 24g serving
Farley’s Rusks Original (Heinz) 4.9g of sugar in each 17g rusk
Coco Pops (Kellogg’s) 5.1g of sugar in a standard 30g serving”

Why do we trust brands?

Take Farley’s Rusks for example. It’s a brand we’ve all heard of and a product many of us have eaten, and fed to our children too.

Samuel Farley, a Plymouth baker, first started making rusks as long ago as 1857. At a time when the increased mechanisation of sugar production meant more people were able to afford sugared goods, more people got a taste for Farley’s goods and enjoyed their high sugar content and sweet flavours.

Since then, generations of young infants have chewed on Farely’s rusks to help during teething, or eaten rusks mushed up in milk as a weaning food. Over the years, this means Farley’s rusks (now a product of the Heinz group) became a trusted brand. And, as the popularity of commercial baby foods has grown to meet the needs of busy parents, levels of sugar consumption have increased. There’s a wide range of packets, bottles, jars and pouches on the market, designed and marketed for infants under a year old. So food and drinks which appear to be suitable may well exceed the amount of sugar infants and young children should consume.

Why is there free sugar in baby food?

packet of hovis bread shows high sugar content for bread

Each slice of bread from this trusted brand has more sugar than you may expect.

It’s a fact that people, including babies, love sugar, and particularly enjoy sugar and fat together. It’s a combination that manufacturers of commercial products have been exploiting for centuries. As we rely more and more on producers and retailers, rather than growing and making our own food, we’re eating a larger quantity of foods that are HFSS, which means high fat, salt and sugar.

Baby food doesn’t need sugar added to it.

It’s better not to give babies and infants added free sugar in baby food at all. It’s not necessary because sugar is simply empty calories – that is calories that don’t convert into energy. Too much sweet food also encourages a taste for sugar that is hard to overcome. There are plenty of tasty natural foods without added sugar, such as banana or apple, that will provide more essential nutrients. Even better, offer foods with low sugar, such as cauliflower, green beans and broccoli.

We must remember that too much natural sugar is also detrimental to health, particularly oral health. Excess sugar of any kind and poor oral hygiene results in tooth decay. Anything sweet encourages bacteria to form plaque, which adheres to and weakens hard tooth enamel, allowing bacteria to penetrate.

How can a dentist help?

The NHS covers the cost of dental care for children until they are 18 so children can attend regular appointments. Moreover, the ‘Dental check by 1’ campaign highlights the need for babies to visit a dentist as soon as their first tooth appears, if not sooner, and before their first birthday. During regular dental appointments, the dentist systematically assesses the child patient to determine if teeth are at risk.

A dentist can offer:

In support of government initiatives to improve children’s oral health, four SpaDental practices can register children as NHS patients. All a parent or guardian needs to do is contact the practice.

Please get in touch with our reception teams to learn more about how to register your child.



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