For many parents in America it’s almost too easy to reach for candy, cookies, or soda to reward children’s good behavior, stop them screaming, or just make them smile. Experts are constantly warning us about the dangers of sugar, but is it really all that bad? Don’t our bodies need at least some of it?
As children or adults, we need some sugar as part of a balanced diet, but it’s important to understand that there are healthy sugars and unhealthy sugars. The brown or white sweet stuff that most of us consume at the table, in our drinks, and in prepackaged foods is usually the unhealthy kind. Let’s take a closer look at sugar in our kids’ diets.
Recommended Daily Intake
Pediatricians Svetlana Pomeranets, MD, and Edward Gaydos, DO, spoke to Cleveland Clinic about the role that sugar plays in children’s diets. Dr. Pomeranets said that the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that children between the ages of 2 and 18 have less than 25 grams or 6 teaspoons of sugar per day. They also should have less than eight ounces of sugar-sweetened drinks per week.
Dr. Gaydos added that children under the age of 2 shouldn’t have much sugar in their diets at all. The reason for this is that consuming large amounts of added sugar during childhood is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. And all these health issues can put kids and young adults at risk of developing heart disease. Also, if children fill up on sugary junk food, they won’t have the appetite for food that’s good for them, such as vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy, and whole grains.
Find Sugar, Do Math
According to Dr. Pomeranets, one of the best things we can do is to read the labels on the foods and baby vitamins we purchase to find out how much sugar is in each serving. The pediatrician explained that 4 grams of sugar are equivalent to 1 teaspoon.
Dr. Pomeranets added that the worst culprits are sugary sodas, sports drinks, processed foods, desserts, and even fruit juice, which the doctor stated has no real nutritional value. It’s important to remember that sugar isn’t always listed as such on labels. Instead, you may find other terms such as dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, and fruit juice.
What You Can Do
This doesn’t mean your kids should never, ever have sweet treats. Dr. Pomeranets sweet treats should be exactly that—reasonable portions given on special occasions. Besides limiting candy and other sugary foods to occasional treats, there are other things you can do to ensure your kids don’t consume unhealthy amounts of sugar.
According to pediatric dietician Jennifer Hyland, RD, you can:
- Educate your kid’s taste buds—If you’re introducing a small child to solid food, don’t start with sweet things, as this will help them not to crave those flavors. If your kid already has a sugar habit, change things gradually. Give them low sugar- or plain yogurt and berries instead of sugary yogurt, pieces of fruit in water (sparkling or still) instead of soda, and unsweetened applesauce with cinnamon instead of sweetened applesauce.
- Say no to sugar-sweetened beverages—Avoid beverages sweetened with added sugar, such as soda, sports drinks, sweet tea and coffee, and fruit juice.
- Say yes to foods with less than 10 grams of sugar and over 5 grams of fiber. According to Hyland, fiber can decrease cholesterol, lower the risk of prediabetes and diabetes, and contribute to satiety or feeling full after eating.
Sugar might be prevalent, but it’s not something that needs to dominate our kids’ diets. Use the above tips to promote a healthier approach to food.