Hide the china and strap down your valuables: Your child’s sugar rush just hit its peak — and no one is safe. But while sugar spikes are (thankfully) temporary, they can still have lasting effects on your child.
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“Many long-term studies link sugar to a risk of health issues later in life, including diabetes and obesity,” says pediatric dietitian Jennifer Hyland, RD. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 years of age don’t consume any added sugar at all. And kids 2 and older should have no more than 25 grams (or 6 teaspoons) of added sugar daily.
How bad is sugar for a child?
Sugar may go down oh-so-sweet, but it’s what happens after that’s the problem. “The amount of added sugar kids consistently ingest leads to big blood sugar spikes over time,” explains Hyland. The result? A higher risk of insulin resistance, prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes.
Too much sugar can also affect your child’s mood, activity and hyperactivity levels. “It affects kids’ behavior because their blood sugar is like a roller coaster; up and down all day long,” Hyland points out.
But keep in mind that not all sugar is created equal. “Don’t be afraid of fruit, whole grains, beans or dairy products even though they have sugar. Those are natural sugars,” says Hyland. “Natural sugars are necessary for a child’s growth and development. The added sugars are the problem.”
How to reduce your child’s sugar intake
Like most double agents, added sugar is usually undercover. That means foods marketed as healthy snacks for kids sometimes aren’t. “Know how to spot hidden sugars,” says Hyland, “especially because sugar comes in various forms. The label could say dextrose, sucrose, honey, agave or molasses. Those are all words for sugar.”
So how do you turn the tide on your child’s sweet tooth? Hyland gives five tips.
1. Put sugar-sweetened beverages on your no-no list
Hyland says avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages, including juice, makes a big impact. “Even though 100% fruit juice doesn’t always have added sugar, it’s still a lot of sugar concentrated in one place,” says Hyland. “Also try to avoid lemonade, sodas and sports drinks, and especially as the kids get older, sweet teas and coffee drinks.”
2. Get food label literate
New food labels are currently being rolled out with a line for added sugar amounts. For example, a food label for an apple (which has all-natural sugar) would read:
- Total sugars: 15 grams.
- Includes 0 grams of added sugars.
A jar of applesauce, on the other hand, might say:
- Total sugars: 24 grams.
- Includes 10 grams of added sugars.
“The added sugar line can help you make smarter choices. If a food has 10 grams of added sugar, you might want to choose something else — since that’s nearly half the recommended amount for kids.” Hyland adds.
3. Choose foods with less than 10 grams of sugar and more than 5 grams of fiber
Cereals and granola bars can be sugar minefields. But instead of banning them altogether (and possibly causing meltdowns and tears), Hyland says to look for products containing less than 10 grams of sugar, and if possible, more than 5 grams of fiber.
“Fiber is beneficial in many ways. It helps with satiety, decreasing cholesterol and lowering the risk for diabetes and prediabetes,” she says. “A lot of products that have natural sugars, such as fruits and veggies, have a high fiber content.”
4. Make your own healthy snacks for kids
Processed food is often ground zero for added sugar. So the more food you that you can prepare at home, the better. “Baking mini-muffins rather than getting them from the store makes a difference. While your version might have sugar in it, you can choose a more natural type of sugar or control the amount,” Hyland explains.
You can also try making homemade granola bars that are sweetened with dates to avoid adding sugar. But if being Susie Homemaker isn’t your thing, you can go unprocessed without turning on your oven. For example, opt for fresh or dried fruit over fruit snacks.
There is one caveat: While honey and maple syrup are often seen as more natural sweeteners, they still count as added sugar. “A benefit is that you typically don’t have to use as much since they’re sweeter than regular sugar, and they also contain some nutrients,” says Hyland.
5. Train your child’s taste buds
Hyland suggests when you’re introducing solid foods to your kids, don’t start with the sweet stuff. “If we’re not introducing sugar in excess from the start, then their taste buds won’t crave those flavors as much.” Remember, fruit itself is okay! But nothing with sugar added to it.
Reversing an already established sugar habit
But what if your child is already a sugar addict? Hyland says you can still get them back on the straight and narrow by taking it slow. “Don’t go cold turkey. Instead, make little changes.”
|Instead of …||Try …|
|Sweetened applesauce||Unsweetened applesauce + cinnamon|
|Sugary kids’ yogurts||Plain or lower-sugar yogurt + berries|
|Sugary drinks every day|| · Fewer drinks, more water|
· Fruit in water for sweetness
· Naturally flavored sparkling water