Many weaning and infant food snacks contain a shocking amount of sugar which can cause children to develop a sweet tooth at a young age, new research claims.

Health campaigners Action on Sugar examined the sugar content in 73 baby and toddler products available in the UK.

They found that Heinz Farley’s Mini Rusks Original have around two teaspoons of sugar per serving and Kiddylicious Banana Crispy Tiddlers were more than 50 per cent sugar (59g per 100g).

Findings showed that 27 of the 73 products qualified for a ‘red’ or ‘high’ sugar content on the front-of-pack traffic light food labelling system. Just six products could be classified as ‘green’ or ‘low’.

In addition, 36 products stated that they were suitable for babies less that one-year-old, even though this age group should avoid sugar-sweetened food and beverages.

The campaigners said that babies and toddlers should avoid sugar even from added fruit juice.

What are free sugars?

Free sugars are those which have been added to food and drink, whether that be by a chef, the food manufacturer, or at home. These sugars also consist of naturally occurring sugars such as honey, syrup, nectars, and fruit and vegetable juices or smoothies.

Sugar which occurs naturally, for example in milk, fruit, and vegetables, are not classified as ‘free sugars’ but fall under the ‘total sugar’ figure on food labels.

Dr Kawther Hashem, Campaign Lead at Action on Sugar and Research Fellow at Queen Mary University of London, explained that specific food companies being able to advertise high-sugar foods and beverages to parents with infants was “ludicrous” because babies and toddlers should not consume free sugars.

Dr Hashem said: “Babies can have a preference for sweet foods, due to milk being ever so slightly sweet, but liking sugary foods is something they only learn by eating sugary foods. Some companies choose to encourage this preference further by providing lots of very sweet products from an early age. What we need is companies to make products with minimal amount of sugars, so young children can grow up enjoying less sweet foods.”

Frequently eating and drinking too much sugar can lead to health issues, such as tooth decay and weight gain, at all ages.

Bridget Benelam, from the British Nutrition Foundation, says that giving infants less sweet vegetables, for example broccoli and spinach, can help children tolerate these flavours from a young age.

What counts as too much sugar?

It is recommended that adults should not consume more than 30g of free sugars per day. The recommended daily maximum for children seven- to 10-years-old is 24g and then 19g for children aged four to six.

There is no guideline limit for children below four, however it is suggested that these children should avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and foods with added sugars.

Demanding government regulation, Holly Gabriel, nutritionist from Action on Sugar, said: “The Government must release their long-awaited commercial baby food and drink guidelines, and make them mandatory to hold all companies to the same standard. The Government must also investigate the best way of labelling foods for babies and toddlers to provide better and more honest packaging for parents.”

A representative from Heinz said: “Sugar reduction is a key focus for Heinz for Baby and we are looking into ways to improve the products we make. Alongside the original rusks, Farley’s offer a range of reduced-sugar rusks with 30% less sugar.

“The level of added sugars in these recipes is kept to a minimum consistent with the need to provide a texture which dissolves easily to avoid the risk of choking. Farley’s Rusks are very different from typical biscuits, containing very little fat and no added salt.”

Organix, a children’s food brand, said: “The majority of the sugar content within Organix Soft Oaty Bars comes from dried fruit which contains naturally occurring sugars, rather than the fruit juice concentrate which is used to hold all the ingredients together and to give a suitable texture for a child.

“We clearly label the front of our packs to be transparent to parents. This is part of our No Junk Promise.

“As a brand we are constantly looking at natural ways to reduce sugar and are excited to share new news on this in 2022.”

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