“"Pregnancy is confusing, scary, wonderful, and full of rules around what you can and can’t eat. Fortunately, a lot of these rules are actually outdated myths that don’t quite apply to pregnancy today."“ - Nicole Avena
Dr. Avena's seminal research work jump-started a new field of exploration in medicine and nutrition.
Is It Safe For Your Baby to Have Sugar?
Kids LOVE sugar. In fact, infants even have an innate preference for sweet-tasting things (1). They’re bound to like anything you give them if it’s sweet. However, sugar is exactly what you don’t want to be giving to your little one, especially if they are under the age of two.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under two years of age consume no added sugar at all (2). Added sugars in your little one’s diet increases their risk of dental cavities, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other adverse health effects (1,2). That means no candy, no desserts, no chocolate milk, no sugary cereal, etc. Anything with added sugar (that’s not naturally found in the product) should be off limits. This also often includes many other "kid-friendly" items that aren’t as obvious like juices, applesauce, ketchup, yogurt, and even baby food!
If sugar is so bad for our children, why does baby and kid food have so much sugar in it? Well, it really all boils down to the fact that kids love sugar! Remember, kids are basically programmed to like sugar from birth on a biological level. Besides, the more our children love the food we feed them, the more they are going to want to eat that food (which means more money for the companies producing these sugary items.)
The good news is that there are more and more options today for actually kid-friendly, added sugar-free items that you can buy at the store for your little one. There are also lots of healthy swaps you can start implementing with your children at home.
Instead of sugary treats for dessert, try fruit! Try baking an apple with cinnamon on top, or make a homemade applesauce with vanilla and cinnamon for flavoring. Put real berries on plain yogurt instead of buying flavored ones. Make your own popsicles with Greek yogurt and fruit, or just fruit alone. The possibilities are endless, especially using foods that are already naturally sweet.
The sooner you can start implementing added sugar-free swaps with your little ones, the better. This way, you can help shape their taste preferences before they become set in their ways. You’ll be helping your kid learn how to make better choices for the rest of their life (3)!
1. Mis, N.F., Braegger, C., Bronsky, J., Campoy, C., Domellof, M., Embleton, N.D., Hojsak, I., Hulst, J., Indrio, F., Lapillonne, A., Mihatsch, W., Molgaard, C., Vora, R., Fewtrell, M., Sugar in Infants, Children and Adolescents: A Position Paper of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Committee on Nutrition. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 2017. 65(6):681-696.
2. Muth, N.D. American Academy of Pediatrics News: Sugary drink overload: AAP-AHA suggest excise tax to reduce consumption, 2019. https://www.aappublications.org/news/2019/03/25/sugar032519#:~:text=The%20AHA%20advises%20that%20children,children%20younger%20than%202%20years
3. “How Children Develop Unhealthy Food Preferences.” American Academy of Pediatrics. August 2020. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/How-Children-Develop-Unhealthy-Food-Preferences.aspx
The Importance of Healthy Fats for Brain Health
In the first 1000 days of life, your baby is undergoing a critical growth and development period for their brain, body, and immune system. The internet will probably tell you there are also thousands of ways to support your baby’s development during this time, but one particular recommendation you should pay close attention to is making sure your little one has plenty of fat in their diet.
One of the ways we can provide our infant with a healthy amount of fat is by choosing whole cow’s milk. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children drink whole cow’s milk until they’re at least 2 years old. After your baby reaches that 2 year mark, you may consider switching to a lower fat milk, but before that, whole milk is a key part of your infant’s diet.
Dairy is important in a growing baby’s diet because it helps them to meet their caloric needs for growth, and the fat helps with their brain and eye development. Much of your child’s important brain development happens during these first two years of life (the first 1000 days), and including plenty of fat in your little one’s diet helps ensure proper development.
Some parents may be concerned about the effect of whole milk on their child’s weight, but at such a young age, babies need to be consuming enough calories to support their growth and development. In fact, one study that reviewed about 14 other studies, found that whole cow’s milk was associated with lower odds of childhood overweight or obesity.
If your baby happens to be allergic to cow’s milk, milk alternatives are acceptable (such as fortified soy beverages), but it’s important to keep in mind that they typically have fewer calories, protein, and fat than whole cow’s milk. Milk alternatives tend to have added sugars too, and your child does not need any added sugars at this age.
One thing to keep in mind is that cow’s milk (or any milk alternative) shouldn’t be introduced to your child’s diet until they are 12 months old. Before that, your little one’s body isn’t well-equipped to digest milk or milk alternatives and it could increase the risk of intestinal bleeding. Thus, the best time for whole cow milk consumption is between 12-24 months. Though, this does not include the milk based in infant formula, which is entirely safe for your little one!
Once your child is 2 years old (or if you’re not sure that cow’s milk is a good option for your baby from the start), consult with your child’s pediatrician to discuss next steps and ensure that your little one gets the proper nutrition to grow, develop, and stay healthy.
Vanderhout SM, Aglipay M, Torabi N, et al. Whole milk compared with reduced-fat milk and childhood overweight: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2020;111(2):266-279. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqz276
Debunking Scary Pregnancy Diet Myths
Pregnancy is confusing, scary, wonderful, and full of rules around what you can and can’t eat. There are so many things to consider! Fortunately, a lot of these rules are actually outdated myths that don’t quite apply to pregnancy today. It’s time to debunk these myths for good so you can worry less.
Should You Be Eating for Two?
First up, we have the classic expression, “eating for two.” Even though you’re growing another human inside of you, you definitely don’t want to “eat for two” during pregnancy! In fact, you don’t need to eat any extra calories during the first trimester. You do need to eat more as your pregnancy progresses, but it’s not all that much - you’ll need about 340 extra calories in the second trimester and 450 calories more during the third trimester. (1)
Cutting Out Coffee?
Coffee lovers rejoice! It turns out that you can in fact drink coffee during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agrees that pregnant women can safely consume up to 200 mg of caffeine per day, which is about equivalent to a 12 oz cup of coffee (2). Nonetheless, consuming excess caffeine during pregnancy can be harmful to your baby, so you’ll definitely still need to cut back a little (or a lot) if you’re an avid caffeine drinker.
Is Sushi Off The Table?
When it comes to eating things like sushi (think: raw fish), there is a risk of consuming harmful pathogens for both you and baby, but studies show that pregnant women can safely consume sushi under some circumstances (3). First, the raw fish should be purchased from a reputable establishment, it needs to be stored properly, and also consumed immediately. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that fish to be eaten raw must be frozen first to kill parasites, so the risk is actually quite low for eating sushi in the US. Pregnant women will still want to avoid high mercury fish and shellfish regardless.
More Honey, More Problems?
Lastly, you’ve probably heard that consuming honey is a big no-no for pregnant women due to the risk of botulism. If so, you may be surprised to hear that pregnant women don’t need to worry about consuming honey as much as we thought. As it turns out, the botulinum toxin is unlikely to cross easily into the placenta, so infection in the pregnant mother is extremely rare. That is, unless there is an underlying gastrointestinal disorder or recent antibiotic treatment (3). Basically, your adult gut is well-equipped to fight off the bacteria that can sometimes contaminate honey, so eat up!
“Healthy Weight during Pregnancy.” Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. August 2020.
Moderate caffeine consumption during pregnancy. Committee Opinion No. 462. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2010. 116:467-8.
Tam, C., Erebara, A., Einarson, A., Food-borne illnesses during pregnancy. Canadian Family Physician, 2010. 56(4):341-343.
4 Tips for Making Meal Time Fun
By Dr. Nicole Avena, PhD
Meal time should be fun for you and for baby! But let’s face it, there are going to be some days when one (or both) of you just is not in the best mood, and then meal time might feel more like a chore than a joy. Here are a few things you can do to keep it enjoyable!
Get Fun Gear
Doesn't it feel better to work out at the gym if you have a cute outfit and nice new sneakers? It's motivating to get the job done when you feel like you have what you need. Same goes for feeding baby. Make meals feel special by getting them a fun new bib, a special meal toy, and maybe a cool placemat, plate, or utensils. And you can make cooking baby’s food fun for you by getting yourself a baby food blender or a colorful cooler bag for when you two are on the go!
Let Go of The Mess
Messes will happen. If you like things clean and neat, you should make peace with the mess right now. Don’t waste time stressing about how much of a mess baby is making by dirtying multiple bowls and utensils, finger painting with their food on the table and body instead of eating, or dumping their food on the floor. For now, your dog will take care of the big crumbs, and no one will notice the rest. Mess is best!
Change Up The Menu
Maybe you and baby need a change in the menu to liven things up. If you have been feeding them commercially-available baby foods, try making your own! It isn’t as hard as you would think, and it's a great way to try out new foods. There are many easy and fun recipes you can try on the web, and baby would love to be your assistant chef! Hand them some plastic cups, bowls, and spoons and cook away together!
Go On A Lunch Date
Don't stay all cooped up at home, get out there! Mix up your routine and head out to eat. I'm a firm believer in bringing children to restaurants (and other public places) early in life. Not only will it give them a head start on how to behave in a public setting, but it can also help parents alleviate the sense of disconnect from the world that can sometimes develop when you are home with a new baby. If you're nervous about eating out with baby, start off at a family-friendly place where you get served relatively quickly and can make a quick exit if needed. Ask the server to bring you a to-go container when you order, just in case you need it. If baby fusses or starts to cry, don't throw in the towel and head home right away. Instead use the bathroom for a diaper change if needed, or take a stroll around the restaurant for a quick change of atmosphere.
Adapted from Dr. Avena’s book, What to Feed Your Baby and Toddler