Want to be shocked? Most parents don’t know how much sugar and salt is in baby food.

The Gerber motto may be Start Healthy. Stay Healthy, but a new study out of Canada shows that baby and toddler foods may not be all they’re cracked up to be.

This study found:

  • 63% of baby and toddler foods have either too much sodium or too much sugar.
  • In some instances, the baby and toddler foods were worse than their adult counterparts.

Nutritionally this is bad news. But from a habits perspective, it’s a disaster.

Research shows that consuming sweet and/or salty foods makes less sweet and less salty foods less appealing.

That’s something to remember the next time you find yourself begging your child to eat a string bean!

1) I bet you didn’t know that some Toddler Foods are saltier than potato chips.

Lay’s Classic Potato Chips has 180 mg of sodium per serving.  In comparison:

The Institute of Medicine’s recommends that toddlers (12-24 months) consume no more than 1000 mg of sodium per day.  Once you know that, it’s hard to rationalize giving your child nearly 50% of his allotment in one dish.

Add in an Eggo Waffle (185 mg sodium), a single 1-ounce serving of Goldfish Crackers (250 mg), and a plate of Annie’s Macaroni & Cheese (530 mg) and you can see the problem.

2) And I bet you didn’t know that some Toddler Foods are sweeter than doughnuts.

Gerber’s Spoonable Smoothies have 25g of sugar; Dunkin Donuts Strawberry Frosted Donuts have only 14g.

It doesn’t matter that the Smoothies are made with juice concentrate. When it comes to Training Tiny Taste Buds, sugar is sugar.  (And remember, fruit concentrate is considered an added sugar by the USDA.)

Nutritionists recommend people get no more than 10% of their daily calories from added sugar, yet the Canadian study found that over half of the baby and toddler products derived more than 20% of their calories from sugar.

In addition, 40% of the products listed some form of sugar (corn syrup, cane syrup, brown sugar, fructose, etc.) in the first four ingredients on the label. I couldn’t believe this so I checked it out.  Look at what I found:

Even when sugar is not the key player, it still plays a role in manufactured foods. For instance, all 3 varieties of Heinz Toddler Cuisine (Chicken & Stars with Vegetables and Gravy, Turkey Stew, Veggie Stew with Beef) have added sugar.

To be fair, not all Toddler Food is loaded down with sodium and sugar, and almost all infant food is fairly safe.

But then why does Gerber make its 1st Foods Vegetables – Carrots from carrots and water and it’s version for babies 10 months and up (Graduate Vegetables Dices – Carrots) from carrots, water and salt?

I’m not suggesting that you make your own baby food, but it does seem pretty clear that when your tot is ready for the real deal, that you should consider feeding him real foods, not the processed and enhanced varieties sold by food manufacturers.

Remember, babies and toddlers are not just developing physically, they’re developing their taste preferences too. And those taste preferences produce eating habits that end up lasting a lifetime.

 ~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~


Source: Elliott, C. D. 2010. “Sweet and Salty: Nutritional Content and Analysis of Baby and Toddler Foods.” Journal of Public Health. Pp. 1-8. Accessed online 6/28/2010;Kessler, D. A., MD, 2009. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. New York, NY: Rodale; All product websites accessed 7/5/2010.