The new national nutrition guidelines include recommendations for babies from birth to 24 months for the first time. The U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services (USDA-HHS) will be presenting this baby nutrition guidance along with other updated recommendations by the end of the year.
Research increasingly shows that babies’ eating habits in their first two years influence not only their health and development, but also their eating habits throughout their lives.
The prevalence of childhood obesity is a factor in the recommendations being developed.
The guidelines recommend breast milk for the first six months and encourage breastfeeding for the baby’s first year of life. If breastfeeding is not possible, babies should have infant formula.
There is evidence that breastfeeding reduces the chances of obesity, diabetes, and asthma later in life.
The guidelines suggest introducing solid foods at six months. They recommend a wide variety of foods:
- whole grains
- lean meat
- soy foods
- ground nuts and seeds
- nut butters
- healthy oils
Introducing peanut butter and eggs early will reduce the chances of allergies later in life.
In a point which may be controversial, the scientific report holds that vegan diets are not nutritionally adequate for infants. However, they discuss ovo-lacto diets for babies.
Babies should have no added sugar from birth to two years. The concern is that calories from sugar, which have no nutritional value, can take the place of nutritious foods.
There is also evidence that babies can get in the habit of preferring unnaturally sweet foods. Developing these habits at an early age can lead to obesity in later life.
For this reason, fruit juice is not routinely recommended up to the age of one, and should be restricted to half a cup per day from age one to three. This helps kids avoid the habit of relying on sweet drinks instead of water for hydration.
A 2019 study found that 60% of babies under one year ate added sugars. Yogurt and baby snacks were the top sources of these sugars, followed by sweet baked goods such as cookies.
The new recommendations probably aren’t very different from the advice your pediatrician gives you. However, they are different from typical food choices in the United States.
The USDA hopes that the new guidelines will help to reduce chronic diseases by encouraging healthier eating habits from the beginning.