According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States sugar makes up 16 percent of the total daily caloric intake for children and adolescents, which exceeds the recommended amount of 15 percent of fat and sugar combined. KidsHealth.org states that foods high in added sugar, such as soda, cookies, cake, candy and some fruit drinks, have a tendency to be high in calories and low in nutritional valuable. Consequently, a tasty high-sugar diet makes it hard for your child to choose, let alone eat healthier food. In addition, eating too many sugary foods can also cause dental cavities, holes in their teeth caused by tooth decay. Sugar is found in most foods, so the key to keeping your child’s sugar consumption in check is moderation.
Here are some tips on reducing your child’s sugar intake:
Limit the amount of sweets your child eats gradually. Some may suggest going cold turkey and cutting out sweets all together. This plan usually backfires and your child ends up missing the sweet stuff so much that they may throw a tantrum.
Stock your kitchen with healthy food choices, such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains and limit foods containing added sugar with little or no nutritional value.
CDC’s definition of added sugars include all sugars used as ingredients in processed and sugars eaten separately or added to foods at the table. Examples of added sugars include white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, maple syrup, pancake syrup, fructose sweetener, liquid fructose, honey, molasses, anhydrous dextrose, crystal dextrose, and dextrin.
When possible, prepare meals and snacks at home. This is the best way for you to control your child’s sugar intake and provide nutritious meals.
Decrease the amount of sugar you add to your favorite recipes. I have found that cutting back on the sugar in baked goods doesn’t change the flavor too much.
Offer healthier food choices such as fruit, a naturally sweet snack that also provides fiber and vitamins that your child needs.
While grocery shopping, read food labels and avoid products with ingredients such as sugar, corn syrup and/or high fructose corn syrup. Also, watch out for healthy sugar-laden foods such as:
- Flavored yogurt
- Yogurt drinks
- Sports drinks
- Breakfast Cereals
- Instant oatmeal
- Granola bars
- Dried fruit
- Energy bars
- Flavored milk (chocolate and strawberry)
- “Organic” treats that have organic ingredients but still contains organic sugar
- Flavored juice drinks
- Fruit snacks
- Sweetened applesauce
Another way to cut down on added sugar is to limit or eliminate the amount of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages your child consumes. Stick to water or 100% fruit juice. Even though there is no added sugar in 100% fruit juice, there are still calories from the natural sugars, so you should serve fruit juice in moderation.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugar your child consume to no more than half of their daily discretionary calorie allowance (discretionary calories are defined as the difference between total energy requirements and the energy consumed to meet recommended nutrient intakes).
That means preschoolers with a daily caloric intake of 1,200 to 1,400 calories shouldn’t consume any more than 170 calories, or about 4 teaspoons, of added sugar a day.
Children ages 4-8 with a daily caloric intake of 1,600 calories should consume no more than 130 calories, or about 3 teaspoons a day. (In order to accommodate all the nutritional requirements for this age group, there are fewer calories available for discretionary allowances like sugar.)
As your child grows into pre-teen and teen years, and her caloric range increases to 1,800 to 2,000 a day, the maximum amount of added sugar included in her daily diet should be 5 to 8 teaspoons.
Women should consume no more than 100 calories, and men no more than 150 calories, of added sugar. These numbers average out to about 6 to 9 teaspoons, or 25 to 37.5 grams, of sugar a day.
Remember, be a good role model for your kids and let them see you eating nutritious good food while sometimes eating sweet treats!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Consumption of Added Sugar Among U.S. Children and Adolescents, 2005–2008
KidsHealth.org: Carbohydrates, Sugar, and Your Child
United States Department of Agriculture: 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Weight-control Information Network: Helping Your Child – Tips for Parents