New Guidelines Tell Parents of Babies Under 2, “Every Bite Counts”

The year 2020 might go down as one of the craziest and darkest moments in modern history, but some bright spots have parents breathing a sigh of relief. A group of experts has teamed together to form the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, and they have created the first-ever report of healthy eating habits of infants and babies up to age two years. We finally have a baseline, science-backed report on what a healthy diet for babies really looks like.

Their big motto? “Every bite counts.” We now have a science-backed report that proves what many of us have long known, that added sugars are no good for kids. The USDA 2020 report spells out in no uncertain terms that wholesome and nutritious eating habits starting from a very young age can help build the foundation of a healthy future.

“This report continues the traditional emphasis on individuals ages two years and older and, for the first time, expands upon it to reflect the growing body of evidence about appropriate nutrition during the earliest stages of life,” the report reads. “Nutritional exposures during the first 1,000 days of life not only contribute to long-term health but also help shape taste preferences and food choices.”

Why does this matter so much? Because this report will help shape what a majority of Americans will be eating over the next five years. The USDA is sending this report to the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture; they will then use them to manage decisions around dietary guidelines affecting the years 2020 through 2025. Programs targeted for impact by these guidelines include food assistance programs, food industry marketing, and nutritional advice given to the public. These guidelines may also end up reflected in school lunches and other publicly funded food programs.

But how much bias ended up in the final report? As we know, lobbying can morph good intentions and shift reporting to the advantage of certain companies over the good of the public. CNN put this question to nutrition researcher Marion Nestle, author of “Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning).” Ms. Nestle seemed impressed bu the lack of bias in the final report that is now public.

“This is an impressive, solid, conservative review of the existing science highly consistent with previous Dietary Guidelines but with mostly stronger recommendations,” Nestle told CNN. “At the outset, I was concerned that the committee members might be heavily biased in favor of food industry interests. If they were, such biases do not show up in the final report. I think this committee deserves much praise for producing a report of this quality under these circumstances.”

So what did end up in the report? Here are five key takeaways that parents should know:

No Added Sugar. Period.

Pediatrician Dr. Steven Abrams, who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on nutrition told CNN, “Avoid foods and beverages with added sugars during the first two years of life. The energy in such products is likely to displace energy from nutrient-dense foods, increasing the risk of nutrient inadequacies.”

Juice Is A Huge Problem

Even if the fruit juice is labeled 100% fruit juice, it’s still added sugar and can cause problems for kids under the age of two. Instead of giving them nutrient empty calories from juice, try fresh fruit instead. Yes, fresh fruit still has sugar but it also has fiber and other vitamins and nutrients that can’t get from juice. Limit juice to no more than four ounces a day but try to avoid it altogether.

Know Your Labels

Reading a nutritional food label can be dizzying but once you recognize the myriad way that added sugars can hide in a list of ingredients than you can spot them — and avoid them. Look for ingredients like “brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose,” to name a few.

Breast Is Best

In no uncertain terms, the report firmly asserted that breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for babies and that it can help to deter babies from developing a wide variety of potentially serious health conditions including obesity, type 1 diabetes, and asthma. It should be noted, however, that not all mothers can breastfeed and that when a mother chooses to formula feed that she may do so in a healthy way that does not mean putting her child a path toward serious health risks.

Vitamin Deficiency Is No Joke

Vitamins play a huge role in neurological development as well as healthy immune response. The committee looked closely at vitamin D, iron, and zinc and found that most kids under the age of two simply aren’t getting enough. This is especially true for breastfed babies who tend to lack these key nutrients. Formula-fed babies appear to get adequate amounts of vitamin D but for those who are breastfed, supplementing with up to 400 IUD a day is recommended.

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