It’s an easy trap to fall into. Candy as treats when potty training, going out for ice cream as a reward for good grades, hot chocolate after school on cold days. Sugary foods are quick and easy to utilize when we want to feel good or give a special prize, plus they taste good and kids love them! And adults are no better, not only at wanting sweet treats, but at giving them to children. Before we know it our children are taking in more sugar than they should. The saying goes “everything in moderation,” but what is moderate when it comes to sugar intake in our children? How can we monitor it properly and ensure that they aren’t consistently getting more than they should?
A 2016 statement released by the American Heart Association (AHA) says children ages 2-18 should eat less than 25 grams of added sugars daily. Yes, there is a difference between added sugars and those that are naturally occurring in foods. The AHA defines the naturally occurring sugars that are found in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). Added sugars are sugars and syrups put in foods during preparation or processing, or added at the table.
It’s the added sugars that are linked to health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity; none of which we want our children to suffer from. In the new recommendations from the AHA, designed to keep kids healthy, experts recommend that children consume less than 6 teaspoons of added sugars per day. That is about 100 calories from sugar. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children in the US are consuming an average of 19 teaspoons of added sugar daily. If you are doing the math, that is an extra 13 teaspoons a day. (For labeling purposes 4 grams of sugar equals approximately 1 teaspoon.) Most of that extra added sugar is coming from sources such as: sports drinks, soda, fruit juices, candy and cookies. Did you know one can of Coke contains 42 grams of sugar? Children and teens should limit their intake of sugar-sweetened drinks to no more than 8 ounces weekly
and the recommendations advise that children under the age of 2 years should not consume foods or beverages with added sugars, including sugar-sweetened drinks. That follows the AAP recommendations that your child only drink milk or water.
A total elimination of sugars can be hard to manage but keeping tabs on how much doesn’t have to be hard. When looking at labels, be sure to make note of any ingredient such as syrup and ending in ‘ose. Also, don’t be fooled; organic sugar is still sugar. Heather Procknal, a mom and board-certified integrative health coach to kids and teens, created her own business on the health and wellness of children. She teaches simple strategies in nutrition and lifestyle that add up to big changes and happier healthier kids. Her advice is the first step in keeping sugar at bay, is to become a “Sugar Detective,” by reading labels to find “hidden sugars.”
Knowing that these substances are also identified and metabolized like sugar by the body, will help in reducing the amount that not only your child, but you take in on a regular basis.
Procknal suggests one way to keep sugar levels in check is by using stevia as an easy sugar swap.
Pros: It’s naturally derived from the stevia plant and is available in powdered or liquid form. It won’t raise blood glucose levels like regular sugar. So, there’s no sugar crash or mood swings afterward.
Cons: It can have a slight aftertaste and can increase sugar cravings if overused. So, moderation is the key to making this sugar swap.
Pro Tip: Try gradually swapping regular sugar with stevia into your baking and cooking, to make the transition from granulated sugar less noticeable. The chances of your little one noticing will be much better.
All in all moderation IS the key. It probably won’t hurt to eat sugar some time; the key is not to make it a habit that your child craves!