Study looks at impact of sugar intake in early life

The risks of eating too much sugar and its impact on heart health has been well documented.

Now, a recent study is looking at how a pregnant mom’s sugar intake, as well as sugar in early life can impact a child’s brain function.

The study looked at data from 1,234 pairs of mothers and children.

Jennifer Hyland, RD, of Cleveland Clinic Children’s did not take part in the study, but said it shows that sugar-sweetened beverages were especially a problem.

“The study was looking at how much sugar, specifically sugar-sweetened beverages, that mom was consuming during pregnancy, and it also looked at young children – how much sugar they were consuming,” she said. “They found that high sugar intake essentially had a negative impact on their cognitive function in the early childhood years.”

Researchers found that women who had high sugar diets, especially those who drank a lot of diet soda during pregnancy, were more likely to have children with poorer cognitive skills including non-verbal abilities to solve problems and verbal memory.

The same was true for young children who consumed greater amounts of sugar during early life.

Eating fruit with natural sugar, however, was associated with greater visual motor abilities and verbal intelligence.

Hyland said it’s recommended that children under the age of two should have no added sugar and children over the age of two should have no more than 25 grams or six teaspoons of added sugar per day.

Natural sugar, like that found in fresh fruit does not count against the daily limit.

In fact, Hyland said fresh fruit is an important part of a child’s healthy diet and is a good alternative to other foods for a child with a sweet tooth.

“The sugar that was found naturally in fruit did not have a negative association with cognitive function,” she said. “Fruit is extremely healthy – it has vitamins, minerals, it also has fiber in it, which delays the rise of blood sugar, which is beneficial for things like weight management and energy level.”

Hyland said many people don’t realize how easy it is to exceed the daily sugar limit with their children.

She said some seemingly healthy items like yogurt, granola and fruit juice can have a lot of added sugar hiding in them, which is why it’s always a good idea to read nutrition labels thoroughly.

“A lot of fruit juice – even if its natural fruit juice – has a lot of sugar condensed in one place,” said Hyland. “Surprisingly, a cup of fruit juice may have as much sugar as a can of soda.”

Complete results of the study can be found in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.