It isnot always easy to find one's way through the industrial, sweet and sometimes fatty products aimed at young children! In order to complete my previous article on sugar, I have decided to take stock of the industrial products with sugar and their carbohydrate content (= sugars), while making small aside on the tools to help consumers choose and the sweeteners. This will make it easier for you to decipher the industrial products that are suitable for your child and to give them products that meet their nutritional needs, without forgetting the " homemade " products that are as tasty but as low in sugar as possible. Finally, I offer you consumption guidelines and a small memo of important information to remember.
It all starts very early...
The pleasure of sweetness already exists in the amniotic fluid. However, babies do not have the same taste perception as we do, and even if the food seems bland to us, it is not necessary to add sugar to the child's diet. In fact, it is important to favour natural sugars, such as fructose in fruit and lactose in milk and dairy products. Attention should be paid to hidden sugars and the inappropriate eating habits that may result from them.
List of foods high in sugars
This list is long and includes all confectionery, sweetened drinks including fruit juices and nectars, cakes or biscuits, pastries, cream desserts including some dairy desserts, ice cream, chocolate powders and chocolates (especially milk and white), ketchup and other sauces (sweet and sour, barbecue...), spreads (even organic or without palm oil), honey (strongly discouraged before the age of one because of the risk of botulism), jams (even those made by Grandma Brigitte) and other foods.), spreads (even organic or without palm oil), honey (strongly advised against before the age of 1 year due to the risk of botulism), jams (even those made by Grandma Brigitte!), sugar, even mascobado (unrefined and uncrystallized wholemeal sugar), maple syrup, agave syrup (although a little less sweet than sugar), but also certain ready-made meals (in ham, for example!!!) and the list is even longer.) and the list is even longer... Some of these foods, including those targeted at children under 3 years old and baby snack products, are not interesting because they are often sweet and also rich in fats, not always of good quality!
Sugar content of some baby products
I would like to draw your attention to some baby products, which have a considerable and surprisingly inappropriate carbohydrate content for regulated products. On food packaging, and more precisely in the nutritional table, you can read " Carbohydrates " corresponding toall the sugars in the food (both slow and fast) and " Of which sugars " corresponding to the added sugar content. It is therefore advisable to aim for the lowest possible "Of which sugars" content, as stipulated in the latest recommendations for paediatric nutrition.
Here are some "Carbohydrate" and "Sugar" contents per 100g of baby food with reference to basic baby foods for easy comparison:
A side note on the " Nutri-score " and applications to help consumers make choices
During my consultations, I noticed that these different tools have already made consumers more aware of the industrial foods they consume for several years. The same is true for products intended for young children. However, we must remain vigilant and have a critical eye on these tools. Let's take an example: a muesli and raspberry dairy speciality with a "natural" design and a predominantly green colour, which is a trustworthy colour graphically speaking, gets a "Nutriscore A" even though it contains 5 to 6 pieces of sugar per pot. In comparison, a classic plain yoghurt with whole milk gets a "Nutriscore B" with only 1 lump of sugar per pot and only 0.6g more fat! Unbelievable, isn't it? Sometimes the Nutriscore does not even take into account the quantity to be consumed or the cooking method. Let's take the example of deep-fried potatoes. When you buy them, the "Nutriscore" will be "A" but after cooking, it's a completely different story! Tips on how to be an informed consumer: keep the list of ingredients as short as possible and the carbohydrate content as close as possible to that of a basic product in the same range.
A side note on sweeteners
Sweeteners, also known as sugar substitutes or fake sugars, are food additives with a sweet taste. Bulk sweeteners (including polyols such as maltitolxylitolxylit, sorbitol) have a sweetening power fairly close to that of table sugar (from 0.5 to 1.4), i.e. they occupy the same volume in a food as sugar. They are used in many chewing gums and confectionery products. In comparison, intense sweeteners (in particular acesulfame potassium (E950), aspartame (E951), cyclamate (E952), saccharin (E954), sucralose (E955) or stevia) are very diverse substances, of plantorigin or obtained by chemical synthesis . What they have in common is that they have a very high sweetening power, several dozen to several thousand times greater than that of table sugar. These are sweeteners available for sweetening or baking and those found inlow-fat dairy products and "light" or "zero" drinks. In addition, specific populations (pregnant women, children, diabetics, regular consumers) have not been the subject of sufficient research. It therefore seems necessary to study further the risks associated with the consumption of intense sweeteners by these populations. Therefore, I recommend a precautionary principle and strongly encourage parents not to give sweeteners to their children.
How to sweeten naturally?
I offer you alternatives to sweeten or naturally embellish the preparations for your children or even for yourself: fruits in all their forms: fresh or dried, frozen or canned, whole or in compote without added sugar, pureed or powdered... You also have aromatic bases such as vanilla, in pod or liquid, orange blossom (to be taken without ethanol for babies) and all other spices or aromatic herbs such as cinnamon, star anise or mint and basil...
As usual, I share with you recipes to treat your babies and older children: Vanilla desserts such as semolina or rice pudding (even for infants), red fruit milkshakes, soft cakes with date purée, "cream desserts" with milk and coconut powder, crunchy-melting toast topped with oleaginous purée... Favour homemade preparations that allow you to substitute added sugar with other natural sources or, for older children, to imagine the quantities of added sugars themselves
Frequency of consumption
As you will have understood, sweet products should be avoided as much as possible in children under 3 years of age and should therefore be reserved for festive occasions or special occasions thereafter. An excess of sugar contributes to overweight orobesity, the formation of tooth decay and the development of diabetes. Moreover, sugar provides little nutritional value, such as vitamins and minerals. This is why it is preferable to choose natural fruit and vegetables. I would like to take this opportunity to add that chocolate products, which are widely available in the nursery section, should be limited due to the nickel content of chocolate.
To remember in this article
- Ban honey for babies under 1 year of age because of the risk of botulism and chocolate until 3 years of age because of its nickel content
- Offer added sugar in moderation, only from age 3
- Limit the consumption of sweeteners for as long as possible
- Use festive times or special occasions to give away sweet products
- Favour 'homemade' or minimally processed with little or no sugar as much as possible
In conclusion, as I often say to the families of my little patients, give preference to good fats rather than sugar, which is much more harmful to health than what is said about fats. Even Kaamelot says it: "Fat is life".
Dietician - Nutritionist specialising in paediatrics
- Haut Conseil de la Santé Publique : Avis relatif à la révision des repères alimentaires pour les enfants âgés de 0-36 mois et de 3-17 ans, 30 juin 2020
- Nutritional value statements made in February 2022 on various online drives
- To find out more about intense sweeteners : Les édulcorants intenses | Anses - Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l'alimentation, de l'environnement et du travail
- To find out more about the Nutriscore : Nutri-Score (santepubliquefrance.fr)