Most parents at some point have uttered the phrase, “My child has such a sweet tooth!” And yet few parents do anything about it. We hear time and again that children have too much sugar in their diets. Cutting sugar isn’t a simple task. But it’s an important one.
“One third of children in the U.S. are affected by overweight and obesity,” said Beverly Haynes, RN, nurse clinician in the Weight Management Clinic at Children’s of Alabama. “We know that this leads to a multitude of even more serious diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, joint problems and many more.”
One way to cut down on sugar is to reduce or eliminate the obvious offenders. Parents can easily restrict candy and products like maple syrup, honey and jellies. Eliminating sugar-sweetened drinks like sodas and fruit juices alone can make a huge impact! Consider these facts:
- Each 12-ounce serving of a carbonated, sweetened soft drink contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar and 150 calories. Sweetened drinks are the largest source of added sugar in the daily diets of U.S. children.
- Consuming one 12-ounce sweetened soft drink per day increases a child’s risk of obesity.
But it’s important to know that many foods contain “hidden sugars.” Products not normally considered “sweet” can have a lot of sugar in them. Examples are peanut butter, salad dressings, and ketchup.
In addition, the carbohydrates in highly refined foods with simple sugars, such as white flour and white rice, are easily broken down and cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly. Complex carbs, found in whole grains, on the other hand, are broken down more slowly, allowing blood sugar to rise more gradually.
According to Beverly, the best source of sugar is fruits and vegetables. Instead of soda or juice drinks, serve low-fat milk, water or 100 percent fruit juice. A word of caution: although there’s no added sugar in 100 percent fruit juice, the calories from those natural sugars can add up. So limit juice intake to 4-6 ounces for children under 7 years old, and no more than 8-12 ounces for older kids and teens.
To find out if a food has added sugar, look at the ingredient list for sugar, corn syrup or sweetener, dextrose, fructose, honey or molasses. Avoid products that have sugar or other sweeteners high on the ingredient list.
Children’s weight management experts will never tell a patient they can’t enjoy an occasional slice of birthday cake. Occasional treats are okay. The key is that parents are aware of the amount of sugar in their children’s diet, and that they stay informed by reading the labels on foods and setting limits. Above all, it’s important for parents to be a good role model. Kids will see mom and dad’s wholesome habits and adopt them, leading to a healthier lifestyle throughout childhood and into adulthood.