A study published in the March 2015 issue of Pediatrics reminds us, as parents and pediatricians, that not all food products designed for toddlers are healthy choices.
The researchers set out to evaluate the sodium and sugar content of a variety of foods targeted for infants and toddlers. After examining labels of over a thousand food and drink products, they were able to make a few conclusions.
• Infant foods generally are well within guidelines for reasonable sodium content.
• Many infant fruits and grains, on the other hand, have added sugars or are very high in sugar content.
• Most toddler dinners exceeded the recommended sodium content.
• Many toddler foods contained added sugars and a high sugar content.
What makes these findings important? First off, having children consume high sodium and high sugar foods from an early age has the potential to “set” their taste buds. Pediatricians generally encourage parents to avoid these kinds of foods so that children will be able to enjoy low sodium and low sugar meals and snacks as they grow into adolescence and adulthood.
Our hope is that we help children avoid some of the sodium and sugar related diseases by not making them accustomed to exaggerated sugar and sodium flavors. Sodium intake is related to conditions like hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Excessive sugar intake is associated with obesity and a host of other chronic conditions. The goal of the pediatrician is to prevent these problems well before they begin.
Take home point – When choosing foods for toddlers, do not assume that a “toddler” label means the product contains a reasonable sodium content. Read labels and, when possible, offer unprocessed, whole foods to your child. It’s the best way to know exactly what he or she is consuming.