Report on added sugar in Nestle baby food triggers controversy, FSSAI takes note

Sugar is generally not recommended for infants, although guidelines in several developing countries do not explicitly prohibit it

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New Delhi: For decades, parents have diligently scrutinized labels, ensuring the purity and wholesomeness of the foods they offer their infants. However, amidst the colorful packaging and catchy marketing slogans, the insidious presence of added sugars often lurks, disguised under perplexing names like sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, or even fruit juice concentrate.
According to a recent report, Nestlé’s products for babies in Asia, Africa and Latin America were found to contain added sugars, while the same products sold in Europe did not have it. This included the world’s biggest baby cereal brand Cerelac, which reportedly contained added sugars that averaged nearly 3 grams per serving when sold in Indian markets.
A report by Public Eye, a Swiss investigative organization, and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) has revealed that Nestle India is adding sugar and honey to infant milk and cereal products sold in countries like India. It was based on tests on Nestlé products that were conducted in a Belgian lab.
Nestlé, like many other baby food manufacturers, has a range of products specifically formulated for infants and young children. These products are designed to meet certain nutritional standards and provide essential nutrients for healthy growth and development. However, it’s essential to check the ingredients list and nutritional information on the packaging to understand what’s in the product. Added sugars are often a concern in processed foods, including baby foods, as they can contribute to health issues like obesity and dental problems.
The Union Consumer Affairs Ministry has asked the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to initiate action against the Nestle for allegedly selling baby products with high sugar content in India. “High sugar content in baby products raises serious concerns about the potential implications for the health and safety of children in our country. The health and well-being of our citizens, especially infants and young children, is of paramount importance, and any deviation from safety standards could lead to serious health concerns,” the letter to FSSAI noted.
Sugar is generally not recommended for infants, although guidelines in several developing countries do not explicitly prohibit it.
The amount of sugar considered acceptable in baby food varies depending on different guidelines and recommendations from health authorities. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding added sugars in the diet of infants and toddlers under the age of two. They suggest that introducing foods with natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables is preferable to foods with added sugars.
World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that free sugars (added sugars) should not exceed 10% of total energy intake for children and adults. For infants and young children under the age of two, it’s even lower, with a suggestion to aim for less than 5% of total energy intake from free sugars.
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) provides guidance on dietary reference values for various nutrients, including sugars. They recommend that for children aged one to three years, added sugars should contribute no more than 5% of total energy intake.
Meanwhile Nestlé India spokesperson reacted to the issue: “Compliance is an essential characteristic of Nestlé India and we will never compromise on that. We also ensure that our products manufactured in India are in full and strict compliance with CODEX standards (a commission established by WHO and FAO) and local specifications (as required) pertaining to the requirements all nutrients including added sugars.”
“Reduction of added sugars is a priority for Nestlé India. Over the past 5 years, we have already reduced added sugars by up to 30%, depending on the variant. We regularly review our portfolio and continue to innovate and reformulate our products to further reduce the level of added sugars, without compromising on nutrition, quality, safety, and taste,” added the spokesperson.