Children & Sugar


The American Heart Association (AHA) recently came out with new recommendations to limit the amount of “added sugar” consumed by children ages 2-18 years to 24 grams per day. For reference, that’s about the amount in a scant quarter cup of gummy bears. Even when we think we’re making healthier choices, the added sugars may be piling up: just 1 serving of Honey Nut Cheerios and 1 Mott’s Classic Applesauce cup add up to around 20 grams of added sugar. Below you’ll find tips for cutting back on the added sugars in your and your children’s diet, as well as some information on why it’s a worthy effort.

The average American child consumes around 128 grams of sugar per day, or the equivalent of 2.5 pounds of sugar per week. (Check out this Forbes article for other sugar consumption statistics.) At more than 5 times the recommended intake, we’re putting our children at elevated risk for myriad health issues, including heart attack and stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and obesity. And while it’s natural to enjoy sweets, it is possible to help ourselves and our children enjoy more foods without added sugars if we make it a priority.
Which sugars counts toward your added sugar grams? 
  • Any sugar you add to your own food or drinks. This includes white sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, raw sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, coconut sugar, agave nectar, corn syrup, etc etc.
  • Any sugar the manufacturer or restaurant adds to your food and drink. In addition to the above, this includes high fructose corn syrup, “evaporated cane juice,” glucose, sucrose, maltose, fructose, dextrose, fruit juice concentrates, maltodextrin and barley malt.
  • Many global agencies recommend counting the grams of sugar in 100% fruit juice as “added sugars” as well, because the sugar in fruit juice has been processed out of the fruit (in the same way table sugar has been processed out of sugar cane or sugar beets).  However, the AHA is not currently including 100% fruit juice in the added sugars category.
  • The sugar naturally present in whole fruit and vegetables and unsweetened dairy does not count toward your added sugar grams. These foods have been linked to lower disease risk.
Here are some amounts of added sugar hiding in “kid-friendly” foods:
  • Orange Crush Soda (12 oz): 43 grams
  • Capri Sun Fruit Punch (6 oz pouch): 16 grams
  • Chocolate Milk (8 oz): 13 grams
Hint: Water and unsweetened milk are the best beverages for kids. If your kids resist drinking unsweetened beverages, try using a fruit infusion pitcher or offering them diluted 100% fruit juice (equal parts juice and water). 
  • Kellogg’s Honey Smacks (3/4 cup): 15 grams
  • General Mills Trix (1 cup): 10 grams

Hint: unsweetened quick-cooking oats, with a teaspoon of brown sugar added at home, contain just 4 grams of sugar. Alternatively, sweeten oats with pureed or chopped fruit for a no-added-sugar option.

  • Yoplait Go-Gurt Strawberry Banana (2 oz): 5 grams
  • Dannon Fruit on the Bottom Blueberry Yogurt (6oz): 13 grams
Hint: plain yogurt sweetened at home with pureed (unsweetened) frozen fruit contains 0 grams added sugar. 
  • Treetop Cinnamon Applesauce cup (4 oz): 6 grams
  • Del Monte Peaches Fruit Cup “in lightly sweetened juice” (4 oz): 10 grams

Hint: fresh fruit has no added sugar

  • Uncrustables Peanut Butter & Grape Jelly Sandwich (1): 9 grams
  • Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (1 cup): 6 grams
Hint: Healthier options would include a turkey & cheese or peanut butter & banana sandwich on whole wheat bread.
  • Starburst (8 count): 23 grams
  • M&Ms (1.69oz package): 30 grams
  • Chips Ahoy Cookie Snack Pack (56-gram package): 16 grams
Hint: Fruit makes a great dessert! Save the highly sweetened desserts for special occasions instead of every day. When you do offer sweetened dessert, keep the portions small.
Here are some useful tips for achieving a healthy limit on your, and your children’s, consumption of added sugars:
1) Want your kids to eat less sugar? Eat less sugar yourself! Don’t expect your kids to give up things (like soda) if you’re not willing to give them up.
2) Eat more whole, unprocessed food.
3) Read nutrition labels and ingredient lists. If sugar is one of the first three ingredients in the list, that product should be a rare treat, not an everyday food.
4) Explore ways to reward, comfort and celebrate with your children that are not food-related.
Limiting your own and your children’s sugar consumption is a challenge, but it offers the incredible gift of long-term good health. If you get overwhelmed, start with decreasing the added sugars in weekday breakfasts, or school lunches, etc. This is about progress, not perfection. Any amount of sugar you cut back from your and your children’s diet over the long term will help. Wishing you success and much good health!
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Lindsay Pasdera

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