How can you reduce sugar in kids’ diets? Get educated on how you can trim sugar in food products, and take full advantage of fruits to add natural sweetening power with these top five expert tips.
Sugar, sugar everywhere! It’s not such a sweet situation. Kids’ diets can include an alarming amount of added sugars through ingredients added to foods and beverages, like white sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, and corn syrup. The problem is that an increasing body of evidence links high added sugar intake to health risks among children, including obesity, and increased risk for cardiac and metabolic diseases as the years go by. On average, U.S. children are consuming 19 teaspoons of the sweet stuff per day. Yet, the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children aged 2-18 should consume to no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day.
Considering that a single 12-ounce serving of soda contains up to 13 teaspoons of sugar, a powdered drink mix can have 9 teaspoons, and a sports drink can have 2 teaspoons, it’s not hard to see how kids exceed these recommended levels. And that’s not even factoring in products like fruit yogurts, fruit candies, cookies, snacks, breakfast cereals, and even things like pasta sauce. So, what is a parent to do? Check out my top tips for skimming sugar in your kids’ diet and powering up on fruit power.
Top 5 Tips for Skimming Sugar in Your Kids’ Diet
1. Read the Labels
It’s important to get total sugars and “added” sugars straight on the Nutrition Facts panel. Total sugars include those that are naturally present in fruits and vegetables. These are not of concern, health wise. “Added” sugars include all sugars added to the food, such as cane sugar, corn sugar, honey, agave, or brown sugar. These are the sugars to keep to a minimum. So, flip over the food product and read those nutrition facts panels to keep on top of it. Keep in mind that 4 grams of sugar is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of sugar when you are scanning food labels. If you’re trying to keep sugars to no more than 6 teaspoons per day, that’s the equivalent to 24 grams of “added” sugars per day.
2. Skip the Soft Drinks
One of the easiest ways to ditch the sugar is to avoid sugary soft drinks. Study after study specifically links these beverages to childhood health concerns. Make soft drinks a special occasion, such as when kids have a special meal out, go to a birthday party, or summer picnic. They should not be a daily part of the diet. Instead, opt for herbal citrus waters, 100% fruit juice (up to 1 serving a day), and just plain water.
3. Keep an Eye Out for So-Called “Healthy” Foods
Remember that looks can be deceiving. A cereal may appear healthy, but sugar levels can be high. Yogurts may seem loaded with fruit, but a hefty dose of sugar may be included. Snacks may look nutritious, but contain large amounts of honey, maple syrup, and even fruit juice concentrate. On the other hand, look for trusted products that contain no added sugars, and are based on whole, real fruits and other plant foods.
4. Make Your Own Treats
One way you can know for sure that you’re skimming sugar from your kids’ diets is to make treats yourself, where you can control the ingredients. Turn to the power of whole fruits, such as dates, raisins, apples, bananas, and unsweetened fruit pouches to make wholesome, sugar-free treats, such as power bites and balls, bars, and muffins.
5. Power Up on Fruits
Nature’s own dessert is whole, natural fruit. Filled with natural sugars, which are of no health concern, these disease-fighting plant foods can help provide a wholesome taste of sweetness to kids’ diets. Get in the habit of serving fruit at the end of each meal as “dessert”, such as apple wedges, grapes, berries, or sugar-free fruit pouches.
Try some of my favorite kid-friendly, low-sugar treats: