NutriGrow : The Perfect Formula

The Dangers of Excess Sugar in Babies


Did you know that the excess sugar your baby receives in his first year of life can affect his eating habits and long-term health?

That's why it's key to choose carefully those foods that will be part of your diet, starting with baby formula.

Sugar has been present in our diet for many years, but today it is considered one of the most harmful ingredients for our health.

This change of perspective is due to the fact that today we can see the harmful effects that sugar has on our organism, and which contribute to the appearance of several diseases.

As parents, we must be cautious about what we feed our children, since our baby's health will depend entirely on our "initial decisions" throughout his or her life.


We will then dive into the sweet world of sugar, and tell you all about this sweet enemy.

What is sugar?

Sugar includes a wide variety of sweeteners that can be divided into monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose and galactose) and complex sweeteners (such as sucralose, lactose, maltose, etc.).

The table sugar that we usually use is sucralose and it is a carbohydrate that is found naturally in various plants, mainly in sugar cane. 

Sucralose is composed of two types of simple sweeteners: fructose and glucose.

Sugar is present not only in much of the food that we adults eat every day but also in much of the industrial food products designed for babies.

It is a widely used and controversial food additive, since no product has been so questioned and subject to so much controversy.

Good nutrition during the neonatal period and childhood is essential to ensure optimal child growth and development, and better health later in life.

Zsuzsanna Jakab

WHO Regional Director for Europe

In itself, sugar is not harmful, as it is a natural substance found in foods such as fruit and vegetables. Its function is to provide energy for all the cells in the body to function.

But excess sugar consumption can be very harmful to health and cause many illnesses.

Excess sugar in baby food

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned in July 2019 that industrial foods designed for babies often contain too much sugar. It also pointed out that the labelling of these products lends itself to confusion.

The study conducted by the WHO on about 8000 products from November 2017 to January 2018 revealed that 

  • One third contained sugar, such as concentrated fruit or other sweeteners in their composition (ingredients that should not be added to children's foods). 
  • Between 18% and 57% of them contained more than 30% of calories from sugars.
  • Between 28 and 60 per cent of the foods considered inappropriate by WHO were labelled as suitable for infants under six months.

In another study conducted by the Public Health Agency in England (PHE), they found that prepared baby food has as much sugar as candy, and the worst thing is that they present it as if it were good for your health.

PHE carried out a content analysis of 1,120 food and beverage products for infants and children up to 3 years of age, these were some of the conclusions of the study:

  • Some baby foods that are advertised as "no sugar added" often contain sugars such as honey or fruit juice.
  • Purees and liquid baby foods packaged in bags often have a high energy density and a high proportion of sugar.
  • The highest levels of sugar (47.5%) were found in fruit and vegetable products and snack foods (17 g per 100 g).

As we mentioned at the beginning of the post, your baby's nutrition in his first year of life can affect his eating habits and long-term health.

Here are 3 important reasons to take care of your baby's sugar levels and implement "good habits" right from the start:

  1. 1
    Preventing obesity and overweight
  2. 2
    Preventing the development of diabetes
  3. 3
    Preventing tooth decay

3 direct and indirect problems caused by sugar

1- Obesity and overweight

In babies, children and adolescents, as well as in adults, excess consumption of sugar or sugary foods is one of the causes of these two problems.

According to studies, the sector of the population most affected by obesity and overweight is children. It has been found that the amount of sweeteners present in products consumed by babies and children is very high.

The way sugar affects hormones and the brain is the ideal recipe for obesity. Because it causes satiety to decrease and addicts to lose control over their eating.

Sugar is very addictive because of the release of dopamine it produces. Like drugs, sugar promotes the generation of dopamine in the pleasure center of the brain.

This addiction can begin in the first few months of life if the baby is given milk or other foods with added sugars.

Many people believe that this addiction is less dangerous than other addictions and do not pay much attention to it.

The properties of each food have different effects on our body and on the hormones that control food consumption.

Several studies have shown that the effects of fructose and glucose are very different.

Foods containing fructose can cause lethargy or decreased physical activity and do not generate satiety in the areas of the brain that control hunger. 

Over time, this can lead to an increased need to eat foods high in sugar.

Excess sugar is a major cause of tooth decay, the most common form of oral disease in children.

Professor Mary Fewtrell

Head of Nutrition, Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health, England

The main problem is that this need becomes a vicious circle from which it is difficult to get out. The more sugar consumed, the more lethargic the body becomes and the more need for sugar is felt.

We must remember that the fructose that generates negative results is that which is taken through processed foods.

The natural fructose you find in the fruit does not have the same harmful effects because its amount is minimal and has not been modified with chemicals of any kind.

2- Diabetes

Diabetes is one of the most common metabolic diseases, characterized by high levels of glucose in the blood due to insufficient secretion or function of the hormone insulin.

It is known that obesity and lack of exercise increase the likelihood of developing it. Also, that there is a certain genetic predisposition to suffer from this disease.

Excess glucose in the blood can generate a toxic reaction that manifests itself in complications of diabetes, and in extreme cases can even cause blindness.

There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2

Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed when a person does not have insulin produced by his or her body. While type 2 diabetes is characterized by a gradual decrease in the effectiveness of insulin action.

When our cells become resistant to insulin, the beta cells in our pancreas work harder. 

This is crucial because high blood glucose levels can lead to serious and irreversible damage.

Over time, insulin resistance becomes stronger and the pancreas can no longer produce the amount of insulin needed to keep blood sugar levels under control. This is when a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes may be inevitable.

Type 2 diabetes used to occur in older people, but now it is also found in children and adolescents.

The worldwide increase in this disease is due to several factors: sedentary lifestyle, increased obesity and poor eating habits.

The proliferation of sugary drinks and the high consumption of fast food have triggered the incidence of this disease. Not necessarily because sugar has a direct relationship, but as an indirect cause, through the weight gain associated with excessive consumption of high sugar or high calorie products.

Glucose is not something you will find only in foods with sugar, but also in foods like fruit.

Diet and exercise play an essential role in preventing diabetes.

To avoid creating a sugar dependency in babies it is important to avoid cereals and specific baby products containing honey or added sugars in their composition.

Exercise is not only recommended because it helps to control weight, but also because it improves the absorption of sugar and prevents this chronic disease.

3- Tooth decay

Surprisingly, sugar is not the main cause of tooth decay in this case either.

It's the acid, not the sugar, that causes cavities.

But there is a relationship between sugar and acid.

Sugar causes bacteria in the mouth to produce acid that eventually damages the teeth.

This means that the more sugar consumed, the more acid is created in the mouth. But this process occurs because of plaque.

Excess sugar is a major cause of tooth decay, the most common form of oral disease in children.

Dr. Alison Tedstone

Head of Nutrition at the Public Health Agency in England (PHE)

Plaque is a film of bacteria that covers your teeth and gums.

It develops constantly and is removed when brushing teeth. 

Each time the plaque comes in contact with the sugar, acid is produced that attacks the teeth for 20 minutes.

This acid can create a small hole in the enamel.

Sugar and the rparental responsibility

Adults have the ability to control their impulses, but a baby must be educated from the beginning.

It all starts with a bad choice of infant formula. Then the juices, sweetened cereals, cookies and milk chocolate powder for breakfast. Or then the juice box sandwich you put in your backpack for recess.

This is followed by the can of soda, milkshakes or industrial sweets for snacks.

Or the pizzas, sausages, hamburgers and their sauces, preserves or any other processed product that allows to solve quickly a dinner.

The rush makes parents often ignore the amount of added sugar they are adding to their child's diet that puts their health at risk.

These are not only cavities and obesity, but also diseases resulting from poor eating habits, including non-alcoholic fatty liver and liver problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes or cancer.

Added sugar in baby products

Do we really know how many spoons of sugar are equivalent to the products that babies consume?

The answer is no.

On many labels only the presence of sucrose, fructose, dextrose is generally noted, but not the exact amount.

For example, a yogurt designed for babies can contain 2.5 teaspoons of sugar, while a soft drink contains between 20 and 30.

According to a US study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, two out of three infants (61%) and almost all children (98%) consume added sugars in their daily diet, particularly in sugary yoghurt for infants aged six to 11 months and in fruit drinks for children aged 12 to 23 months.

What can families do to avoid this massive consumption of sugar? 

Nutritionists find a clear solution: more shopping at the local market and less at the supermarket.

Silent foods' such as fruit, vegetables and fish do not need to be labelled to justify their composition. They are the only way to avoid hidden added compounds found in processed products.

The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that consumption of free or added sugars (other than those naturally contained in fruits and vegetables) should not exceed 10% (50 grams) of total daily caloric intake.

But it has also suggested reducing consumption to less than 5% in order to obtain additional benefits.

5% is equivalent to about 25 grams (about six teaspoons) of sugar per day, which means that anyone who eats a piece of cake, an ice cream or a glass of soda reaches or even exceeds the limit.

The WHO also recommends reducing consumption of sweetened beverages to less than 23 centilitres per week. A single can already contains 33 centilitres.

The American Heart Association (AHA) in turn recommends that children under 2 should not consume any added sugars.

Sugar and fchildren's drugs

All infant and toddler formulas follow the same basic recipe. You start with fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, then add the vitamins, minerals, and "extras" (such as prebiotics) in smaller amounts.

Photo by Lucy Wolski on Unsplash

Different types of formulas end up being very different because they use different sources of protein, fat and carbohydrates.

Below we will tell you the different types of carbohydrates you can find in infant formula and which ones you should be looking for "or avoiding".

What type of sugar is found in the food?Children's formulas?

Sugar is a carbohydrate, and that's why sugars end up in baby formula, because they are simple, easily digestible carbohydrates.

As you can imagine, it is quite important that the carbohydrate is present in the baby formula so that it is easy to digest, because babies' intestines are not mature enough to handle many complex carbohydrates and fiber.

However, not all sugars are the same, so let's look at all the options you might find on a label.


Most of the carbohydrate in breast milk (and cow's milk) is lactose. It is formed by the binding of one glucose and one galactose molecule.

It is also known as milk sugar, since it appears in the milk of the females of most mammals in a proportion of 4 to 5%.

This is the kind of carbohydrate that human babies are designed to eat because it is easy to digest.

It also helps good bacteria grow in babies' intestines, and it does not raise blood sugar as much as other sugars.

Lactose has a glycemic index (a measure of how much a food raises blood sugar) of 45. Pure glucose has a glycemic index of 100.

It's not very sweet either. On a scale of 0 to 100, where 100 equals table sugar, lactose has a relative sweetness score of only 16.


Another sugar commonly found in baby formulas is sucrose.

This is the chemical name for table sugar, like the one you put in your coffee or when you bake some cookies.

Sucrose is composed of one glucose and one fructose molecule joined together.

The glycemic index of sucrose is 65 (higher than lactose).

It's also the sweetest sugar you'll find in some baby formulas, with a relative sweetness score of 100.

You often find sucrose in soy formulas and lactose free.

You have to be careful with infant formulas that contain only sucrose as a carbohydrate. This is because sucrose is broken down into pieces: glucose and fructose. This means that 50% of your baby's carbohydrate intake is fructose, which is a very high amount.

High fructose diets are actually harmful (to both children and adults) to health.

Corn Syrup

All corn sugars are made up of a lot of glucose molecules linked together.

Corn syrup is made from corn starch that has broken down a little bit into short chains or individual sugars that are stuck together. 

Depending on how much the corn starch was broken down, the relative sweetness score can range from 23 to 40, higher than lactose but lower than sucrose.


Another common type of corn sugar is corn maltodextrin.

Maltodextrin is made up of longer glucose chains. In fact, corn maltodextrin would turn into corn syrup if it were broken down any further.

This means that corn maltodextrin is a little less sweet than corn syrup. It has a relative sweetness score between 6 and 21.

Although the glucose chains in maltodextrin are longer than the glucose chains in corn syrup, it is still all glucose so the glycemic index of both corn syrup and maltodextrin is 100.

It should be noted that corn syrup is not the same as high fructose corn syrup. As the name implies, high fructose corn syrup has a lot of fructose.

Plain corn syrup has only glucose. This means that a formula with corn syrup will have a high glycemic index (much higher than lactose formulas and breast milk), but will not provide potentially harmful amounts of fructose.


The other carbohydrate you can find in infant formula milks is starch.

It is usually rice starch, which is used to thicken anti-reflux formulas. Starch is not the only source of carbohydrates in these formulas.

Baby formula, which one to choose?

If you have to buy a formula for your baby it is preferable to choose one without added sugar and using mainly lactose (it will appear in the ingredient list), unless you need a lactose-reduced formula.

Lactose is the least sweet carbohydrate in the group.

Formula milks with partially or fully hydrolyzed protein will usually have corn sugar (corn syrup or maltodextrin). In these cases maltodextrin is preferable because it is less sweet.

If the formula contains corn sugar, try to find one that also contains lactose as the main carbohydrate. Because formulas that are 100% corn sugar have a higher glycemic index and will force the baby's pancreas to work harder.

As long as possible, avoid formulas that use sucrose as the main carbohydrate because it is the sweetest. This way your baby will not develop a high preference for very sweet flavors.

In many countries the use of sucrose in infant formula is not allowed, except in hydrolysed protein formulas where a small amount of sucrose is permitted.


The WHO recommends that babies should not eat foods with added sugar until they are two years old.

Many parents associate sugar with spoonfuls, but do not realize that there are other dangerous types of sugar that are hidden or disguised in products such as sugary drinks and processed products.

The problems resulting from excessive sugar consumption are much more than a couple of cavities or a few extra kilos.

Poor eating habits and lack of exercise can put children's health at risk, leading to, among other things: obesity, tooth decay, diabetes, liver problems, non-alcoholic fatty liver, cardiovascular disease or cancer.

It is not a question of eradicating sugar but of using it in the right way.

Sugar is necessary because thanks to it the body obtains glucose easily, which is the fuel for the brain.

We parents should try to generate healthy habits in our children from birth.

Your decisions will determine whether your baby will grow up healthy and fit, be easier to maintain over the years, or be more likely to develop obesity, diabetes, and other diseases from malnutrition.


The information presented on is not intended to provide or replace the advice of your pediatric physician or medical nutritionist. 

The information presented in this post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Full medical clearance must be obtained from a licensed physician before modifying a child's diet. 

The authors assume no liability to any person or entity for any liability, loss or damage caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application or interpretation of the information presented in this post.


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