According to the American Heart Association, children between the ages of two and 18 should limit their intake to a maximum of six teaspoons or 25 grams (roughly 100 calories) of added sugars per day. But sadly, many kids consume up to triple that amount on a daily basis.
Sugar doesn’t just take the form of candy, cookies, cake and ice cream. Added sugars are hidden in all kinds of “child-friendly” foods, from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to pizza and macaroni and cheese. An eight-ounce glass of a popular brand of lemonade contains a startling 40 grams of sugars, many of which are added.
So, how can we help the next generation cut back on the sweet stuff and stave off a host of related health conditions, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease? Following are some simple, practical tips for reducing sugar in your child’s diet.
Sugar and Kids: Tips to Help Limit Consumption
Save sugary drinks for special occasions.
Lemonade, fruit punch, sports drinks, soda and even 100 percent fruit juice not only contain massive amounts of sugar, they don’t promote satiety, which, in turn, can cause kids to overindulge. Instead of sugary beverages, encourage your child to enjoy plain water, water infused with fruit, or milk.
Play up plain milk.
And speaking of milk, stick with the plain variety. Flavored milks—especially the premade kind—can contain over 10 grams of added sugars per cup. If your son or daughter simply won’t consume milk that doesn’t taste like chocolate or strawberries, flavor it yourself with a little reduced-sugar syrup or powder.
Cut back on processed foods.
These are generally loaded with added sugars. Therefore, encouraging your kiddo to embrace foods in their natural state (whole foods) can help decrease his or her daily sugar consumption.
Focus on fruits and veggies.
These whole foods are ripe for the taking—literally! Kids (and grownups) should aim to consume five to nine servings of canned (in water or natural juice), fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables daily, and there are countless ways to incorporate them into the diet. Fruits, in particular, can be enjoyed in lieu of sugar-laden desserts. Or, at the very least, they can be used in place of sugary toppings, such as cookie crumbles and sprinkles.
Compare food labels.
Not all processed foods are created equal. So, if your child is going to continue to consume these, read the nutrition labels carefully and select the products that contain the fewest added sugars. For instance, opt for a cold cereal that has one gram of added sugars per serving rather than one with nine grams.
Prepare most meals.
Cooking meals at home allows you greater control over the foods your child eats. Restaurants often enhance the flavor of meals by adding extra sugar, salt and fat, so skip the drive-through and dine out only on special occasions.
Revamp your recipes.
Play around with your favorite recipes to make them healthier and less sugary. For instance, substitute equal parts unsweetened applesauce for table sugar when baking cookies, cakes or brownies. Or, simply reduce the amount of sugar you use by one-third or one-half.
Find alternative flavorings.
Sugar isn’t the only ingredient that makes food taste appealing. Instead of giving your son or daughter flavored (a.k.a. sugary) yogurt, try serving plain yogurt flavored with a tablespoon of cocoa powder and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Extracts, such as vanilla, orange and almond extract, are also fabulous flavor enhancers.
Pack smart snacks.
When running errands with your child, it’s tempting to grab a quick treat from the vending machine, candy aisle or snack bar. But with a little advanced planning, you can help your mini-me make much healthier choices. So, the next time you head out with your kiddo in tow, pack a banana, some carrot sticks, an organic crispy snack bar, multigrain tortilla chips or trail mix.