The 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has released its report, and within the over 800-page report is a first for the committee: Recommendations on diets for babies and toddlers. In general, the committee's findings are likely to be unsurprising, but it's a big milestone to have the first few years of life clearly addressed in these massive nutritional recommendations. Here's what parents should know about the report's findings on infant diets.
As you might have guessed, an infant's diet is a crucial starting point for a healthy life. "Nutritional exposures during the first 1,000 days of life not only contribute to long-term health but also help shape taste preferences and food choices. Human milk or infant formula are the young infant's primary sustenance until about age 6 months, when the introduction of complementary foods and beverages (CFB) is recommended," the report states. Although the report does focus primarily on diets for age 2 and up, it also suggests a few pieces of guidance for infant feeding and reiterates the importance of good nutrition from the very beginning of life.
One of the biggest guidelines: avoid added sugars, period. "Avoiding consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) by children younger than age 2 years is important for several reasons," the committee says. "First, the energy contributed by such beverages leaves less 'room' for energy from nutritious CFBs, leading to potential nutrient gaps. Second, limited evidence suggests that SSB consumption by infants and young children is related to subsequent risk of child overweight. Lastly, intake of SSB in early life may set the stage for greater intake of SSB later in life, with potentially adverse health consequences."
For infants not yet eating solid foods, the report suggests that breastfeeding, if possible, provides some nutritional advantages. "Being breastfed may reduce the risk of overweight or obesity, type 1 diabetes, and asthma, compared to never being breastfed. Evidence also suggested that a longer duration of any breastfeeding is associated with lower risk of type 1 diabetes and asthma, although the optimal duration of breastfeeding with respect to these outcomes is not well understood," the report says. For slightly older children (between 12 and 24 months) who are no longer on a milk or formula diet, the committee suggests a "Food Pattern" that "include[s] choosing potassium-rich fruits and vegetables, prioritizing seafood, making whole grains the predominant type of grains offered, and choosing oils over solid fats," all prepared in "developmentally appropriate" ways. The full report offers more details, but the key takeaway seems to be fairly straightforward: a milk/formula diet (ideally breastfeeding) for at least 6 months, if not a year, and then the slow introduction of nutritionally and developmentally appropriate foods without additives and excess sugar.