In the 1990s, the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act required dietary guidelines be published every five years with the latest updated scientific information. In December, the 2020-25 dietary guidelines were released and for, the first time ever, include recommendations for infants and toddlers up to 2 years of age.

This inclusion is important because it’s used to establish policies for such agencies as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infant and Children. It’s also used by doctors to help parents with guidance about nutrition and healthy eating for their children.

Recent evidence demonstrates that food exposures in the first 1,000 days of life set the stage for long-term nutrition, taste preferences and food choices. Food preferences are formed in infancy, and since early life exposures may contribute to the risk of obesity, this is of great interest to public health.

This is an important time for setting taste preferences and infant attitudes toward food. The committee covers many important areas such as breastfeeding, allergies and types of solid foods for food introduction.

One of the items stressed by the committee is the importance of avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages in children 2 and younger. Sugar-sweetened beverages are simply drinks with added sugar, which include non-diet soft drinks and flavored fruit drinks.

Sugar-sweetened drinks have received much attention because of their association with the obesity crisis in the United States, and their consumption has decreased. Sweetened fruit juice adds unnecessary sugar to infants’ diets and takes up “room” in daily intake that leads to nutritional gaps.

Sugar is added to fruit juice in the processing, and many of the healthy parts of fruit such as fiber are eliminated. Interestingly, as we’ve entered the era of food processing, the growers of fruit have developed sweeter fruit and according to Donald Davis, a biochemist at the University of Texas, they’re less nutritious than they were 50 years ago. Modern growers focus on high yields and rapid growth at the expense of quality.

About 80 percent of all the processed foods contain added sugars. A 20-ounce bottle of Heinz ketchup has about two-thirds cup of sugar. There’s sugar in breads, salad dressings, spaghetti sauces and other processed food. Determining the sugar content is hard to calculate because the sugars are listed as added and natural sugars together under total sugars.

A few items can help you determine if there are added sugars. Look for code words for sugar. These ingredients end with “ose” such as fructose, maltose, and sucrose. Sugars have many names and many are well known such as cane sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup and caramel. Healthier-sounding names such as brown-rice syrup or honey aren’t any better for you than other types.

Avoiding fruit juice and processed foods is good for all, but even more if avoiding them in infancy prevents developing a food preference for sugar. Drink water.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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