Robert D. Murray
During the first years of life, the sweetness of sugars has a capacity to hinder or to help in laying a strong nutritional foundation for food preferences that often extend over a lifetime. Aside from supplying 4 g/kcal of energy, sugars are non-nutritive. However, sugars have a powerful attribute, sweetness, which strongly influences human food preference. A child’s first relationship with sweet taste begins even before birth and continues to evolve throughout complementary feeding. The sweetness of breastmilk encourages consumption and soothes the neonate.
Conversely, inappropriate introduction of non-milk solids and beverages that are sweet at 0–4 months of age raises the newborn’s risk for lat- er obesity and may discourage the acceptance of other bitter or sour foods. Although cereals, fruits, 100% fruit juices, and some grains have naturally occurring sugars that impart sweet flavor notes, there is no clear role for added sugars between 6 and 12 months of age. Yet, 60% of infants are introduced to foods and beverages containing added sugars, threatening diet quality. Pairing foods with naturally occurring sugars, such as fruits, with foods that tend to be resisted initially, such as vegetables, can mask bitterness and promote acceptance.
Utilizing the infants’ extraordinary capacity for sensory-motor exploration is another strategy to ex- pose them repeatedly to challenging tastes and flavors. The transitional year, as breast milk and infant formula are withdrawn, is a time when nutritional needs are high and diet quality often precarious. Rapid growth, along with brain and cognitive development, demand high-quality nutrition. Snacks are necessary both for energy and valuable nutrients. However, the selection of snack foods often exposes toddlers to items that offer concentrated energy with low nutrient value. Recent trends suggest a rapid fall in added sugars among infants and toddlers. Parenting practices that use small amounts of sugars to promote nutrient-rich foods from all 5 food groups can enhance rather than hinder their child’s emerging dietary pattern.