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New U.S. dietary guidelines: No added sugar for kids under 2

Sugar being sprinkled from a spoon.
The first U.S. government dietary guidelines for infants and toddlers recommend breast milk only for at least six months and no added sugar for kids under age 2.
(Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

So much for celebrating baby’s first birthday with cake and ice cream. The first U.S. government dietary guidelines for infants and toddlers recommend breast milk only for at least the first six months of life and absolutely no added sugar for children under age 2.

“It’s never too early to start,” said Barbara Schneeman, a nutritionist at UC Davis. “You have to make every bite count in those early years.”

The guidelines, released Tuesday, did not include two key recommendations made by scientists advising the government. Those advisors said in July that everyone should restrict their added sugar intake to less than 6% of daily calories and that men should limit their alcohol consumption to one drink per day.

Instead, the guidelines stick with previous advice: Keep added sugar below 10% of calories per day after age 2. And men should limit alcohol to no more than two drinks per day, twice as much as advised for women.

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“I don’t think we’re finished with alcohol,” said Schneeman, who chaired a committee advising the government on the guidelines. “There’s more we need to learn.”

The dietary guidelines are issued every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. The government uses them to set standards for school lunches and other programs.

Here are some highlights of what’s in the new edition:

Infants, toddlers and moms

Infants should have only breast milk until they are at least 6 months old, the guidelines say. If breast milk isn’t available, they should get iron-fortified infant formula during the first year. In addition, infants should get supplemental vitamin D beginning soon after birth.

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Babies can start eating other food at about 6 months of age, and they should be introduced to potential allergenic foods along with other foods.

“Introducing peanut-containing foods in the first year reduces the risk that an infant will develop a food allergy to peanuts,” the guidelines say.

There’s more advice than in prior guidelines for pregnant and breastfeeding women. To promote healthy brain development in their babies, these women should eat 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week. And they should be sure to choose fish — such as cod, salmon, sardines and tilapia — with lower levels of mercury, which can harm children’s nervous systems.

Pregnant women should not drink alcohol, according to the guidelines, and breastfeeding women should be cautious. Caffeine in modest amounts appears safe, and women can discuss that with their doctors.

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What’s on your plate?

Most Americans fall short of following the best advice on nutrition, a mistake that contributes to obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Much of the new advice sounds familiar: Load your plate with fruit and vegetables, and cut back on sweets, saturated fats and sodium.

The guidelines suggest making small changes that add up: Substitute plain shredded wheat for frosted cereal. Choose canned black beans that are low in sodium. Drink sparkling water instead of soda.

There’s more advice on the government’s My Plate website, plus information on an app to help people follow the new guidelines.

Read the labels

The biggest sources of added sugars in the typical U.S. diet are soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, snacks, candy and sweetened coffee and tea. These foods contribute very little nutrition, so the guidelines advise limits.

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Information about the added sugar in packaged foods is available on the “Nutrition Facts” label, along with information about saturated fats and sodium.


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