Toddler Snacks, Meals Have Lots of Salt and Sugar
"It was surprising that more than seven of 10 packaged toddler meals contained too much sodium (salt)," said study leader Mary Cogswell, a researcher at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "In addition, a substantial proportion of toddler food, and infant and toddler snacks -- even those we don't think of as sweet, like toddler meals and salty snacks -- contained at least one added sugar."
The good news, she said, was that most commercial infant foods were low in salt and did not contain added sugar.
Cogswell and other researchers tallied up the total sugar and salt in more than 1,000 U.S. infant and toddler foods found in major grocery stores in 2012. The infant foods were for children aged 4 to 12 months; the toddler foods were for children 1 to 3 years old.
The 657 infant foods included dinners, vegetables, fruits, dry cereals and ready-to-serve mixed grains. All but two of these were low in sodium, defined as less than 140 milligrams (mg) per typical serving.
Most infant food was also free of added sugars -- except the infant mixed grains and fruits, about half of which had added sugar and more than a third of total calories from sugar. A typical serving of these, on average, contained 10 grams (g) of sugar.
But the 72 toddler dinners the researchers looked at were a different story: A third of them had added sugar, and more than seven in 10 of them were high in salt, defined as more than 210 mg per typical serving.
Further, most of the snacks, desserts and juices for both infants and toddlers tended to contain added sugar. Sugar made up more than a third of total calories for nearly 90 percent of dry fruit-based snacks.
"Some parents might be surprised that a majority of infant and toddler snacks and sides, such as flavored crackers and rice cakes, contained added sugar," Cogswell said. "About half the analyzed ready-to-serve mixed grains and fruits products, such as oatmeal and fruit in a jar, contained added sugar."