The food choices you make for your baby can affect her weight and health outcomes throughout her life. When your child hits those picky-eater toddler years, keeping her healthy includes maintaining a close watch on her daily sugar intake. While some sugars occur naturally in foods toddlers like, such as fruit and dairy, the sugar added to processed foods for taste presents a bigger problem, because it can mount up quickly. Read manufacturers' labels carefully to keep your toddler's added sugar intake below 100 calories per day.
The sugar recommendation for toddlers is 25 grams — or 100 calories — of added sugar per day.
Sugar Recommendations for Toddlers
The American Academy of Pediatricians defines "toddler" as a child between the ages of 1 and 3 years. Although the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 does not make recommendations for infants and babies, the American Heart Association advises that children under age 2 consume no added sugar at all. The AHA further recommends that all children from ages 2 to 18 limit their intake of added sugar to 25 grams per day. That equals 6 teaspoons of sugar, or 100 calories. Following this guideline helps prevent health issues for growing toddlers such as obesity and risk factors for heart disease.
Read more: The Effects of Chocolate on Toddlers
Limit Daily Sugar Intake
You may have already cut down on your toddler's candy and cookie consumption — obvious culprits when it comes to sugar. Less obvious sources, however, include other foods common to a toddler's diet. In a review published in Pediatrics in 2015, the authors found that many foods geared toward toddlers, especially convenience snacks, contained added sugar, often in the form of "juice concentrate." Some of these snacks, the review noted, contain more sugar than a serving of ice cream.
When choosing foods for toddlers, be especially mindful of the sugar content in fruit drinks and sodas; cereal and cereal bars; baked goods; frozen desserts; and yogurt with added fruit and flavors. The AHA reports a lack of research on whether 100-percent fruit juices present the same health concerns as drinks with added sugars; likewise, it points to a lack of research on artificial sweeteners.
The "Nutrition Facts" on a food product's label now lists total sugar and added sugar, helping you track your child's daily intake. For example, a product may contain 12 grams of sugar in a serving, but only half the grams come from added sugar. Check the ingredients list for words such as corn syrup, corn sweetener, fruit juice concentrate and any name ending in "-ose," all of which indicate added sugar.
Read more: Blood Sugar Levels in Toddlers
Choose Healthy Food for Toddlers
The first two years of life present the perfect opportunity for parents to instill healthy eating patterns in their babies and toddlers, says a 2017 report from the Healthy Eating Research Project. Humans are born with a natural preference for sweetness, but they can learn to like the taste of sour and bitter foods like vegetables through repeated exposure.
Make sure your toddler gets most of his daily calories from whole foods like fruits and vegetables. Snack foods are the big challenge when you're pressed for time but trying to limit your toddler's sugar intake. Keep cut-up vegetable sticks on hand, like red peppers or carrots, to offer instead of a handful of cereal or a granola bar. Or, try fresh-ground nut butter with apple slices or banana.
- HealthyChildren.org: Ages and Stages
- Healthy Eating Research: Feeding Guidelines for Infants and Young Toddlers
- Circulation: Added Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children
- Pediatrics: Early Exposure to Dietary Sugar and Salt
- American Heart Association: Children Should Eat Less Than 25 Grams of Added Sugars Daily
- FDA: Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label
- American Heart Association: Sugar 101