Added sugar and kids
As parents, we are constantly bombarded by all the things we have to know to raise our kids. Sleep schedules, car seat safety, choking risks, potty training, healthy relationships, behavior, the list goes on and on.
Paying attention to the things added to our kid’s food is something we often know little about. As a pediatric dietitian and mama to a 16-month-old, I know how overwhelming it all can be. Even as a nutrition expert I am often confused by the things I see on labels. I know that if things are confusing to me, they are also confusing to other parents.
One of the things many of my clients are confused by, added sugars.
Let me start by saying that sugar is not a toxic chemical that is out to destroy your life. It is okay for your kiddos to enjoy a sweet without you stressing about their long-term health. But the real truth is that most kids are getting way too much of it.
These days, it seems like sugars are added to just about everything from crackers to cereals to sauces. Even your kid’s favorite ketchup is sweetened with added sugars. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to stop giving your kid ketchup, my daughter loves ketchup just as much as the next toddler. My goal is that parents are informed about added sugars, so they can make the best, well-rounded decisions for their family.
This post is part one of a three part series on added sugars, up next week I'll be sharing a recipe for for my favorite no sugar added energy bites, stay tuned!
What are added sugars?
Added sugars are the sugars added to foods during processing. These are not the ones naturally found in foods. Added sugars are the ones that need to be limited in babies and kids and are the ones most nutrition experts are concerned about.
Added sugars come in many forms and have many different names, making it hard for the average parent to identify them. A few common added sugars include corn syrup, brown sugar, molasses, brown rice syrup, honey, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates. The purpose of these is to add flavor and sweetness to foods.
What are natural sugars?
Have you ever looked at the label on a package of prunes or dates and noticed they have a TON of sugar? If they are just plain dried fruits the sugars are all from naturally occurring fruit sugar or fructose. This is the same sugar found in fresh and frozen fruits. If you have ever purchased plain yogurt and saw that it still contained a lot of sugar, that too is natural sugar (lactose), it was not added.
How much sugar should kids have daily?
Most kids are getting too much-added sugar on a daily basis. According to a study in Nutrients, 30-40% of kids 12-24 months were consuming sugar-sweetened beverages. (5) And, many commercially prepared infant and toddler foods contain added sugars.
In babies and young children who are still developing food preferences, added sugars may inhibit their ability to learn to like the flavor of other foods. Additionally, because young children have very tiny bellies it is important that the foods they are eating are directly contributing to their key nutrient needs. Foods that contain added sugars may take up space and limit more nutrient-dense food.
According to the dietary guidelines kids ages, 2+ should have no more than (25 g) or 6 teaspoons of added sugar each day. Babies under the age of two should not be consuming added sugars.
In a report by the American Heart Association, US kids eat an average of 19 teaspoons of added sugar daily. The primary sources, fruit-flavored drinks, soda, sports drinks, cakes, and cookies.
How to identify added sugars
Read labels (if sugar is added to the item, it can be identified by looking at the ingredient list on the food label.) The new food label format will be including added sugars, so they are more easily identifiable, however not all products have made the switch to the new label format. Some companies have up to July 2019 to get the new food label onto their products.
Know how to convert added sugar grams into teaspoons. If your child is 2 years or older they should have no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar each day.
4 grams of added sugar on the food label=1 teaspoon of sugar.
If the label indicates 10 grams of added sugar 10/4=2.5 teaspoons (or almost half the daily allotment).
How to avoid or limit added sugars
- You can limit added sugar intake by focusing on whole food ingredients, fruits, vegetables, plain dairy, whole grains such as plain oats, brown rice, quinoa and nuts, and seeds.
- Purchase products that do not contain added sugars or those that are reduced in sugars (especially sauces). Many products will list “no sugar added” on the packaging.
- Reduce eating out at restaurants and fast food places and cook more meals at home where you can control the sugar added in the cooking process.
- Limit sugar-sweetened beverages to “sometimes” foods and allow your kids to enjoy treats based on your schedule and not with free reign to the kitchen cupboard.
- Replace added sugar with natural sugars in baking and in recipes.
- Choose no sugar added snacks (stay tuned for my no sugar added energy bites next week! Plus a no sugar added recipe round up in two weeks.)
- Don’t obsess over counting sugar grams each day. Look at the big picture.
Big picture changes
Is your family regularly eating high added sugar items like candy, cookies or sweetbreads? How can you reduce that? Are you buying a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages? How can you include more water instead? Are you using sweets as a snack instead of as a treat? Focus on more whole food nutritious snacks for filling bellies and treats for enjoyment. Replace added sugar with natural sugar in recipes.
There is no need to cut out all added sugars, just be aware of the sources and how you can lessen the overall quantity for your family.