The recommendations for children under 2 are the same as those made by an independent advisory panel last July, but that’s not the case for older children and adults. The panel had suggested limiting sugar consumption to no more than 6 percent of daily calories after age 2. But the final guidelines retain the government’s previous dietary advice, which says added sugars should make up less than 10 percent of daily calories. Sugars that occur naturally in things like fruit, milk, and other foods, are not included in these guidelines.
For the average 2- or 3-year-old, who needs around 1,000 calories a day, adhering to the guidelines means no more than 100 calories a day from added sugar – equivalent to a little more than 2 tablespoons, or 24 grams. For reference, that’s two cereal bars, about 7 ounces of storebought lemonade, or two single-serving flavored yogurts – yes, even organic.
Too much added sugar in children’s diets has been linked to obesity and increased risk for future health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Added sugar is usually found in sweetened beverages, desserts, sweet snacks and cereal bars, breakfast cereals, and candy. But it’s also found hidden in soups and sauces, even ketchup. It’s a good idea to read labels on packaged food to check the sugar content. Added sugars have a range of names, including brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women also have some new guidance: Eat 8 to 12 ounces of low-mercury seafood per week. Eating fish is good for your baby’s brain development, and consuming it during pregnancy was already widely recommended by health experts. Although some pregnant women don’t eat fish because of concerns about mercury, there are many delicious and safe low-mercury fish options.
Here are a few other items included in the guidelines:
- If you can’t breastfeed your baby, give her iron-fortified infant formula. Babies should also get supplemental vitamin D starting soon after birth.
- Introduce potentially allergenic foods early, such as peanuts, eggs, and shellfish. This could reduce a child’s risk for developing a food allergy.
- Don’t drink alcohol if you’re pregnant, and talk with your doctor before considering alcohol consumption while breastfeeding (no alcohol is the safest option). Also ask your provider about drinking caffeine.
- Feed your children (and yourself) healthy, nutrient-dense foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and protein such as lean meats, eggs, and seafood. Limit added sugar, saturated fat, and salt.
For more detailed information about the new guidelines, visit the USDA’s MyPlate website. You can also find out more here about nutrition for young children and eating well during pregnancy.