Sugar

Food Type:
Age Suggestion: 24 months +
Nutrition Rating:How nutritious a food is with a focus on the specific nutrients babies need for optimal growth. The more nutritious a food, the more stars it will have.
Prep Time:How much time a food takes to prepare safely for a baby. The more time-consuming a food is to prepare safely, the more clocks it will have.
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Common Allergen: No
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a pile of sugar before being prepared for toddlers starting solids

When can babies have sugar?

While it is considered safe to add sugar to baby’s food after 12 months of age, it can be beneficial to wait until closer to the 2nd birthday to introduce sugar and sweeteners (even natural ones like agave, date syrup, honey, maple syrup, and stevia). In excess, sugar and sweeteners can reduce the diversity of foods a child is interested in eating, may increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, increase the risk for dental caries, and potentially even impact cardiovascular health.1 2 3

Cultural background of sugar

Sweetness is a basic and inherent component of many natural foods, but humans first started extracting and concentrating that sweetness in India thousands of years ago. What we now know as refined or table sugar is typically made from sugar cane, a species of grass particularly high in sucrose, or sugar beets.

Cooking with table sugar—pure sucrose—is to witness magic in the kitchen: it can exist in crystals, powder, or syrups; it can be molded and sculpted; it can form fine threads or glass-like panes; and it can be molten to create caramel. But that magic has, historically, come at a cost: refined sugar has traditionally been a labor-intensive good to produce, which meant that the industry was a powerful driver in the global slave trade. Today, the sugar industry has expanded thanks to the invention of high-fructose corn syrup and other products, which are all considered unhealthy in excess.

Adie, 12 months, is not sure what to do about her first cupcake.
Malden, 13 months, tries a little bit of granulated sugar.

Is sugar healthy for babies?

No. Sugar lacks protein, fat, and nutrient density—which babies need—and in excess can lead to an increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and dental caries.4 5 6 Furthermore, babies have an innate preference for sweetness, so it’s important to give them ample time to develop a palate for healthy foods that do not contain added sugar.7 Avoiding added sugar and sweeteners in the early years may help babies and toddlers to learn to love savory flavors as well as naturally sweet whole foods like fruit and vegetables. If you want to sweeten baby’s food, consider using fresh fiber-containing fruits, such as bananas, figs, or strawberries.

★Tip: Beverages often have a lot of added sugar. Skip sweet beverages for now and serve your toddler water and unsweetened milk instead. And remember, babies younger than 12 months of age should only have breast milk, formula, or very small amounts of water to drink.

How can I find added sugars on a food label?

In the US, added sugar amounts are specified on the food label under “added sugars.” Also, if a form of added sugar (see below) is one of the first few ingredients listed, know that that food likely contains significant amounts of sugar.

Common added sugar ingredients include:

  • Agave nectar
  • Barley malt syrup
  • Beet sugar
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Brown sugar
  • Cane juice crystals
  • Cane sugar
  • Caramel
  • Carob syrup
  • Coconut nectar
  • Coconut sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Date nectar
  • Date sugar
  • Demerara sugar
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Glucose
  • Glucose solids
  • Glucose syrup
  • Golden syrup
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Maltose
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Powdered sugar
  • Rice syrup
  • Raw sugar
  • Simple syrup
  • Sorghum syrup
  • Sucanat
  • Sucrose
  • Treacle
  • Turbinado sugar

Are artificial sweeteners like stevia okay for babies?

No. It is our strong opinion that it’s best to hold off on any sweetener until closer to age 2. Furthermore, information regarding sugar alternatives for children—especially infants and toddlers—is quite limited. For this reason, avoid sugar substitutes when possible.

Is sugar a common choking hazard for babies?

No. Sugar itself is not a common choking hazard, though the foods it is in certainly can be. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment and stay within an arm’s reach of baby during meals.

For more information on choking, visit our sections on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.

Is sugar a common allergen?

No. Sugar allergies are rare.8 As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity on its own for the first couple of servings.

How do you introduce sugar to toddlers?

6 to 12 months old: Avoid.

12 to 24 months old: Consider waiting. Early and frequent exposure to sugar can reduce the diversity of foods your child is interested in eating and even increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes and negatively impact cardiovascular health.9

24 months+ old: Go time! When you are ready to introduce foods with added sugar, don’t make it a big deal. Avoid offering dessert as a special occasion or reward and never require the child to finish their meal in order to get a sweet food or dessert. Lastly, keep in mind that children will naturally appreciate the taste of sweetness—humans are programmed this way. The goal is to have a healthy and guilt-free relationship with food while eating a nutritious diet.

For more information on how to cut food for babies, visit our page on Food Sizes & Shapes.

Recipe: Whipped Cream with Berries

a square bowl filled with whipped cream and one whole strawberry, next to two strawberries that have been dipped in whipped cream and one small strawberry with no cream on it

Yield: 2 cups (480 milliliters)
Cooking Time: 5-10 minutes
Age: 24 months+

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon (17 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) vanilla extract
  • 5 large strawberries

This recipe contains common allergens: dairy. Only serve after dairy has been introduced safely.

Directions

  1. Add the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract to a large bowl and using a large whisk or (ideally!) an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk until stiff peaks form. Do not over whip or it will become lumpy and start to turn into butter!
  2. Serve: Allow the child to dip their strawberries straight into a small bowl of whipped cream. Or, cut their berries up and top with whipped cream.

To Store: Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

Flavor Pairings

The particular tastes of sugar range from the mellow buttery flavor of caramelized sugar to the simpler sweetness of granulated sugar. Sugar offers a versatile sweetness to a limitless number of desserts, but it can also help to balance spicy ingredients (like jalapeño) or bitter ones (as in cocoa), as well as enhance flavor in dishes.

Reviewed by

E. Cerda, MSN, CNS, LDN

A. Gilbaugh, RD, CNSC

K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT

S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. (allergy section)

R. Ruiz, MD Board-Certified General Pediatrician and Pediatric Gastroenterologist

  1. Fidler Mis, N., Braegger, C., Bronsky, J., Campoy, C., Domellöf, et al. (2017). Sugar in Infants, Children and Adolescents: A Position Paper of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Committee on NutritionJournal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition, 65(6), 681–696. DOI:10.1097/MPG.0000000000001733. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  2. Genovesi, S., Giussani, M., Orlando, A., Orgiu, F., & Parati, G. (2021). Salt and Sugar: Two Enemies of Healthy Blood Pressure in ChildrenNutrients, 13(2), 697. DOI: 10.3390/nu13020697. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  3. Chi, D. L., & Scott, J. M. (2019). Added Sugar and Dental Caries in Children: A Scientific Update and Future StepsDental clinics of North America, 63(1), 17–33. DOI: 10.1016/j.cden.2018.08.003. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  4. Fidler Mis, N., Braegger, C., Bronsky, J., Campoy, C., Domellöf, et al. (2017). Sugar in Infants, Children and Adolescents: A Position Paper of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Committee on NutritionJournal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition, 65(6), 681–696. DOI:10.1097/MPG.0000000000001733. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  5. Genovesi, S., Giussani, M., Orlando, A., Orgiu, F., & Parati, G. (2021). Salt and Sugar: Two Enemies of Healthy Blood Pressure in Children. Nutrients, 13(2), 697. DOI: 10.3390/nu13020697. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  6. Chi, D. L., & Scott, J. M. (2019). Added Sugar and Dental Caries in Children: A Scientific Update and Future StepsDental clinics of North America, 63(1), 17–33. DOI: 10.1016/j.cden.2018.08.003. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  7. Fidler Mis, N., Braegger, C., Bronsky, J., Campoy, C., Domellöf, et al. (2017). Sugar in Infants, Children and Adolescents: A Position Paper of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Committee on NutritionJournal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition, 65(6), 681–696. DOI:10.1097/MPG.0000000000001733. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  8. Jung, C.-G., Yang, E.-M., Lee, J.-H., Kim, S.-H., Park, H.-S., & Shin, Y. S. (2018). Coca-Cola allergy identified as fructose-induced anaphylaxis. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, 6 (5), 1787-1789.e1. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaip.2018.02.003. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  9. Fidler Mis, N., Braegger, C., Bronsky, J., Campoy, C., Domellöf, et al. (2017). Sugar in Infants, Children and Adolescents: A Position Paper of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Committee on NutritionJournal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition, 65(6), 681–696. DOI:10.1097/MPG.0000000000001733. Retrieved May 13, 2021.