Starting kids out on the right track

An important new study on added sugar and salt in packaged food for babies and toddlers, published in the journal Pediatrics, is receiving broad attention in the news media due to the stark findings and its authoritative source: researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta. 

The review paper, titled, “Sodium and Sugar in Complementary Infant and Toddler Foods Sold in the United States,"1 evaluated the sodium and sugar content of commercial infant and toddler foods, an issue that's long concerned the SugarScience team. 

First, the good news: Most commercial foods for babies were found to be low in sodium. Additionally, most infant meals, vegetable, fruits and dry infant cereals were found not to contain added sugars. However, more than half of the infant mixed grains and fruits (41 of 79 samples) contained sugar, and almost all of those drew more than 35% of their calories from sugar.

Toddler foods fared even worse. Researchers found that 72% of toddler meals contained too much sodium, with more than 210 milligrams per serving. Approximately 79% of U.S. children aged 1-3 exceed the upper limit for sodium recommended by the Institute of Medicine (1,500 mg per day), according to the paper. The sugar news wasn’t much better: 32% of toddler meals contained added sugar, as did the majority of cereal bars, breakfast pastries, fruit snacks, desserts and juices aimed at toddlers.

The SugarScience team agrees wholeheartedly with the CDC’s conclusion from the paper. Juice and sugary or salty snacks are not recommended for babies and toddlers as a regular part of their diet. So, parents need to read nutrition labels carefully in buying foods for young children.

Added sugar

Any sugar added in preparation of foods, either at the table, in the kitchen or in the processing plant. This may include sucrose, high fructose corn syrup and others.

SugarScience Glossary


Sugars are chemicals made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen found which taste sweet and are found in food. They are an important part of what we eat and drink and of our bodies. On this site, sugar is used to mean simple sugars (monosaccharides) like fructose or glucose, and disaccharides like table sugar (sucrose). Sucrose is two simple sugars stuck together for example (see Table sugar). Sugars are a type of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are energy sources for our bodies Sugars enter the blood stream very quickly after being eaten.

SugarScience Glossary

SugarScience is the authoritative source for evidence-based, scientific information about sugar and its impact on health.

Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD, MAS

Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD, MAS, is a cardiovascular epidemiologist with expertise in the development of cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease and diabetes risk in young adults. She is the Vice Dean for Population Health and Health Equity in the UCSF School of Medicine.

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