Study: Commercial baby food is too sweet

12 October 2015

New research shows that commercial baby foods are so sweet that toddlers may never learn to appreciate bitter foods.


The University of Glasgow study found that commercial baby foods use predominantly fruit and sweet vegetables, such as carrot, rather than bitter ones like spinach.


This lack of variety is unlikely to promote the development of bitter tastes in children, the authors say in the journal Maternal and Child Nutrition.


The researchers examined 329 brand-name products in the UK and found that sweet fruit and vegetables contribute significantly to sugar content and appear to be used as sweetening agents.


Fruits were mentioned more than vegetables in the names of baby foods and even savoury foods contained an average of 3-7% sugar.


Lead researcher, Dr Ada Garcia, says: “Infants have an innate preference for sweet foods.  And while manufacturers clearly recognise the demand for products that appear to be healthy, commercial pressure will ensure these products are highly palatable.


“Taste learning requires parents to introduce their children to less palatable bitter tastes and to keep offering them however, it is probably unrealistic to expect commercial products to assist in this process.


“Health practitioners need to encourage parents to offer home-cooked vegetables to promote taste experience in children.”


The researchers looked at products from all the major manufacturers and found:


• 329 baby foods labelled as containing fruits or vegetables or both in the name
• Fruits more commonly featured in the names than vegetables
• Fruit juice added to 18% of products, with a median content of 15g/100g added fruit juice
• The median content of fruit and vegetables ranged from 94% for sweet-spoonable foods, to 13% for dry savoury
• The most common ingredients mentioned were: apple, banana, tomato, mango, carrot and sweet potato
• Green vegetables were rarely used
• The foods in the study had a median number of three fruits and vegetables per food
• The majority of baby foods are recommended from four months of age, which adheres to EU regulations, but contradicts World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations on the appropriate age of weaning.


There has been no comprehensive examination of commercial baby food in New Zealand, but it’s likely to contain similar ingredients to those in the UK.


More details about the development of taste preferences can be found in the Healthy Start Education Programme modules.  Learn more about our education programmes.


You can read the full research article here.