For the first time, the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans will include advice for feeding babies and toddlers. A new report gives a peek at what they might include (spoiler: peanut is in, sugar is out!).
Every five years, the government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans tells us what to eat—and for the first time ever, they're including babies and toddlers in their latest recommendations. Thanks to a new report, we're getting a sneak peek at what might be included.
Released this week, the Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is written by a committee made up of researchers and public health experts. They send the report to the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services, who draft the final Dietary Guidelines. The Guidelines are a big deal because they not only shape broad nutrition advice but also influence food policies and programs that affect millions of people.
Though past Dietary Guidelines started at age 2, this new batch includes specific advice for birth through 24 months. And while this new report isn't the final say, it gives hints of what's to come. Here are some of the committee's conclusions:
"Ever" breastfeeding has benefits: In line with other leading advice, the new report encourages breastfeeding, ideally for the first six months. But they note that there is some evidence that "ever being breastfed" may lower the risk of overweight or obesity, type 1 diabetes, and asthma compared to never being breastfed. (Of course, some moms can't or choose not to breastfeed, so here's some expert advice about formula.)
First foods mean a lot: Despite the old adage of "food before one is just for fun," what you feed your child in the first 1,000 days of their life is actually really important, impacting long-term health and helping to shape your child's taste preferences and food choices later on. They emphasize making sure to serve sources of iron and zinc (such as meat, egg, seafood, or iron-fortified cereal) and a variety of fruits and vegetables (especially those that are rich in potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C) between 6-12 months. And don't start solids before 4 months of age.
There's no room for sugar: Because what babies and toddlers eat is so important, the committee says there's no place for added sugar (that's the kind added by manufacturers or at home, not the natural kind in fruit or plain dairy). That's especially true for sugar-sweetened beverages (such as soda, punch, and lemonade), which they say to avoid completely in the first two years. Drinking these beverages early in life leaves less room for nutritious foods and drinks. There's also some research showing it's related to a higher risk for child overweight (and it may set a preference for sugary drinks for years to come).
Early peanut (and egg) offers protection: The report says that introducing peanut and egg in the first year of life (in forms right for babies) may lower the risk for allergies to these foods. Though the evidence isn't as strong that early introduction of other foods (like soy and fish) can do the same for allergies, there's no reason to avoiding them in the hopes of preventing allergies (of course, always talk to your pediatrician about what's best for your child in terms of family history and health history).
How you feed is important too: Though the committee says the "how" of feeding babies and toddlers wasn't on their agenda, they did make a point of talking about it in the report (and said the next Dietary Guidelines should address it). Specifically, these experts say "responsive" feeding—recognizing and responding to the signs your child gives you about whether she's hungry or full—may help your child better regulate throughout childhood and have a positive effect on their weight. They also stress the importance of consistent, repeated exposure to foods like fruits and vegetables in the infant and toddler years (in other words, don't give up!).
By Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition.
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