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Many toddler and baby foods too sugary: study

More than half the foods marketed to babies and toddlers in Canada have too many of their calories coming from sugar, researchers from the University of Calgary say.

While many foods aimed at babies, such as pureed and stewed fruit have healthy amounts of naturally occurring sugars, the new wave of processed baby foods, such as toddler cereal bars, teething cookies, and kid-sized fruit snacks and yogurt are filled with added sugars, the research found.

The Calgary researchers evaluated 186 food products marketed to babies and toddlers. They excluded juices and pure fruit and vegetable purees, as well as infant formulas.

Using the yardstick that a product with more than 20 per cent of its calories derived from sugar is "nutritionally poor," the study found 53 per cent of the products were too high in sugar.

Among other findings:

• 40 per cent of products listed sugar -- or some sugar variant such as corn syrup, cane syrup, brown sugar, or dextrose—in the first four ingredients on the label

• 19 per cent listed added sugar (or some variant) as either the first or second ingredient

• 63 per cent were found to have high levels of sodium

Among the examples the researchers listed was Gerber's Fruit Medley Dessert, which includes naturally occurring sugar as well as added sugar. The product derives 75 per cent of its calories from sugar.

Likewise, Gerber's Graduates for Toddlers Juice Treats Fruit Snacks derive about 70 per cent of their calories from sugar, including the corn syrup and sugar listed as the product's first two ingredients.

"It remains fair to ask why it is necessary to add sugar to these baby or toddler products in the first place," the authors note.

The study was funded by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest Canada and was led by University of Calgary's Charlene Elliott, an associate professor in the Communications & Culture department. (CTV)

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