We all know the negative effects of sugar: weight gain, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay, to name a few. Unfortunately, it only seems to be getting worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the past 30 years, obesity in children has doubled and in adolescents it’s quadrupled. Today, more than one-third of American children and adolescents are overweight or obese.
First off, it’s important to differentiate between naturally occurring sugar — like in fruit and milk — and added sugar — as is found in candy, cakes and soft drinks. According to the American Heart Association, kids age 2-18 should ingest no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day (that’s about six teaspoons). To put that in context, a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola has 39 grams of sugar. It’s not always easy to avoid sugar, though, as kids are often clamoring for candy and cookies. Plus, parents might not even be aware of all the everyday foods and beverages like soup, orange juice and bread that hide high amounts of sugar.
Here are seven tips to help your family reduce its daily sugar intake:
Beware of hidden sugar
The hidden sugar offenders are foods that often don’t even taste sweet, such as spaghetti sauce, ketchup, bread, hamburger and hot dog buns, soups and many frozen or processed foods. That’s why it’s always important to carefully read labels. Look for the brands that do not include sugar, corn syrup, cane syrup or other forms of the sweet stuff in their ingredient lists.
Bake instead of buy
There is no reason to eliminate sweet treats altogether — it’s all about moderation. Baking at home allows you to use less sugar or even replace it with applesauce or other low-sugar alternatives. Look for sugar-free or low-sugar recipes online.
Cut out sweetened beverages
Avoid keeping sugar-sweetened sodas or juices in your home. Sugar-sweetened beverages are responsible for the majority of added sugar in kids’ diets, so leave them behind from here on out.
Plan meals and snacks
When meals and snacks are planned, the impulse to find something quick, easy and usually unhealthy is defeated. If you plan for apples and cucumber slices with lunch, you’ll have apples and cucumber slices with lunch. With no advanced planning, fast food or tempting treats are easy to fall back on.
There are many studies showing that simply keeping track of the food we eat helps us eat better. It’s that simple. An app such as the USDA’s Food Tracker works well for tracking all things, including added sugar.
If your kids can identify they are craving something sweet, try fruit. Frozen grapes or baked apples are sweet and delicious. Instead of putting sugar on fruit or cereal, get out the cinnamon shaker.
Decrease sugar tolerance
As your family cuts back on sugar, foods high in sugar will start to taste too sweet. This change happens slowly, but if you can work toward keeping added sugar under 24 grams a day, taste buds will adapt and you and your family will appreciate naturally sweet foods even more.
– Ashleigh Spitza, RD, clinical dietitian, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
Clinical dietitians at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin are specially trained to provide the best nutritional care for children.
Learn more about Ashleigh Spitza, RD.