New nutrition recommendations for infants and children
The 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recently unveiled its nutrition recommendations for infants and children. The committee, composed of 20 nationally recognized experts, reviews scientific evidence on topics and questions selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS).
“One of the most important recommendations is to altogether avoid added sugars in the diet of children, two years old and younger,” says Alexander Ford, DO, RD, a registered dietician and family medicine resident at the Cleveland Clinic. “The consumption of sugary foods and beverages carries an increased risk of children becoming overweight or obese.”
Eliminate empty calories
Added sugars possess no nutritional benefits and are often referred to as empty calories. They are commonly found in processed foods and beverages.
Though foods may have similar ingredients, this does not always translate to nutritional equity, says Dr. Ford.
Fresh fruits contain fiber, micronutrients, and phytochemicals, in addition to their natural fruit sugars. In contrast, fruit juices often contain large amounts of added sugars and no fiber. Food labels may not explicitly say “added sugars” but may list ingredients like honey, high fructose corn syrup, or sucrose.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee underscores the importance of early food exposure by highlighting the role of nutrition during infancy and its association with long-term health, food preferences, and selection. The committee recommends that added sugar be avoided in a child’s diet due to the strong link to obesity and future chronic health conditions.
Growing scientific evidence is showing that environmental factors can affect our genetics and consequently, our health. There is research exploring the relationship between the environment and the human epigenome, related to health and disease.
“Understanding these connections may aid in the development of preventative strategies and more individualized health care,” says Dr. Ford.
Other recommendations made by the advisory group addressed:
- infant consumption of breast milk,
- supplementation of vitamin D,
- iron and zinc in infants,
- and alcohol consumption for adults.
Breast milk is the ideal source of energy for infants. It contains micronutrients, antibodies, and macronutrients needed for healthy development. Breastfeeding has been shown to burn calories for mothers and reduce the risk of type 1 diabetes and asthma, compared to infants who were never breastfed.
Vitamin D, iron, and zinc are recommended micronutrients for supplementation in infants of breastfeeding mothers. Fully and partially breastfed babies should receive 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D starting at birth.
“Iron is involved in neurological development and immune function, and zinc is essential for healthy growth and development,” says Dr. Ford. “Both micronutrients decline in breastfed infants by six months, and foods rich in iron and zinc, like meat or iron-enriched infant cereals, should be incorporated into their diet.”
The committee also changed its stance on alcohol consumption. An association between higher average alcohol intake and the risk of all-cause mortality has been found. The recommendation for alcohol consumption in men has decreased from two drinks per day down to one per day, which remains the current recommendation for women.
The committee’s review will guide the development of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The recommendations serve as a framework for the creation of the final 2020 to 2025 dietary guidelines, which will inform much of what Americans consume over the next five years.