Many parents know the dangers of high sugar diet. Some are cautious and check their food labels meticulously. But are parents vigilant when it comes to sugar in baby food? Supermarket ready meals for babies have excellent packaging, obviously for sales purposes. They all scream, in bright colours and bold pictures, of the goodness they contain for our babies (vegetables, organic etc). This, of course, is very appealing to us parents, who simply want the best for our babies. But do we get the real full picture of what is in our children’s food?

Sugar in baby food: the day I found out that my baby’s breakfast had too much sugar

My baby started weaning at 5 months (she now 7 months). Her first food was an organic baby food pouch from Marks and Spencer. As she is breastfed and only ate a very small quantity of the food, I did not feel the need to look too much into their nutritional values. So when I bought her baby food, I only read the main content on the front package. This only lasted for a week, until I got a food processor and started making her food from scratch. Sugar in baby food was the least of my concerns then.

Baby food-Cerelac
baby’s breakfast

Shortly after her first puree, I also introduced her to infant cereal, Cerelac. It’s a Nestle Brand popular in French-speaking countries. I could not find Bledina, the other popular brand, where I live. As I was familiar with Cerelac, I systematically picked the appropriate age for my daughter, without reading the nutritional information at the back. I also tried Cow&Gate Banana Porridge.

Like most parents, I taste my baby’s food first and eat any leftover to avoid wasting food. This month, I’m extra careful with sugar in my diet as I have taken on a #Sugarfree January personal challenge. So I decided to check my baby cereal’s nutritional values, especially the sugar level. And, surprise surprise, it had too much of sugar!!

Somehow, I unconsciously thought baby food companies will do the right thing for our children. How wrong was I! I found out that my baby’s cereal has 34.1g of sugar per 100g (keep in mind that 4g of sugar equals 1 teaspoon of sugar). The government and the World Health Organisation both recommend that adults and children consume 25/30g of added sugar a day (about 5% of our daily energy intake).

I also checked Cow&Gate Banana porridge, and, although it claims to have no added sugar, it contains 41.8g of sugar per 100g. There was not clear info to where all that sugar came from. You see how outrageous this hidden sugar business is! There is too much sugar in baby food out there!

The Aftermath: choosing healthier (less sugary) breakfast options for my baby

I was angry (at myself mostly) because I was laid back when choosing my baby’s cereal. As a result, she consumed more sugar than I would ever have wanted her to. Every morning, she took 45g of Cerelac (15.3 gr sugar). On some occasions, I gave her infant cereal twice a day (especially when she turned down the food I’d made her). That increased her sugar intake even more. Even though infant cereals are often diluted with water or milk, the high amount of sugar in them surely remains unhealthy for babies!

There are no nutritional values in the added/ non-natural sources of sugar whatsoever. I’m glad (and fortunate) that I choose to make my baby’s lunch and dinner myself. This meant that most of the additional non-natural sugar she got in her diet was from the cereal. So now we have decided to try Weetabix. It only contains 4.4g sugar and 0.28 g salt per 100g, and 1.7g sugar and 0.10g salt per serving (2 biscuits). What a difference from Cerelac!

Top 4 reasons why you should review your child’s sugar intake from a very young age:

A little boy with tooth decay
  1. Tooth decay: when food/drink with high sugar levels is consumed frequently, they destroy teeth enamel. This eventually leads to a cavity (hole) in our dentine, and makes teeth prone to easy decay.
  2. Palate problem:  frequent use of food with high levels of sugar encourage babies’ palates to develop a preference for sweet tastes. This makes it harder for babies to accept other tastes such as vegetables.
  3. Immune system:  high sugar food/drinks cripple white blood cells for a few hours after their consumption. This exposes babies and adults to diseases as the immune system is weaker then.
  4. Obesity: sugar is full of empty calories (no nutritional values in them). The more you consume, the more excess energy your body stores (this then transforms into body fat).

I don’t know how much sugar there is in other baby foods, especially the ready meals. But, I know that numbers add up, and sugar does not do our children any good. If we want our children to be healthy and have a healthy lifestyle as adults habits, now it’s the time we start to setting those good habits.

So, to parents, sugar in baby food is a real problem. Please read your baby’s food labels and make a healthy call, especially if you rely on ready-made meals for their convenience.

Further resources on the impact of sugar on our health

Is Sugar Toxic? – The New York Times

Sugar and Britain’s obesity crisis: the key questions answered (The Guardian)