US dietary guidelines recommend consuming less than 10% of daily calories from added sugars. On a 1,500-calorie diet, a level appropriate for moderately active 4- to 8-year-olds, just less than 10% would be about 33 grams of added sugars per day.
In August, the American Heart Association issued stricter sugar recommendations designed to keep kids healthy, stating that children should consume less than 6 teaspoons — or 24 grams — of added sugars per day. It also recommended that children and teens should limit their intake of sugar-sweetened drinks to no more than 8 ounces per week.
So what can parents do to keep sugar from overtaking their kids’ diets? Here are a few suggestions.
Don’t deprive your kids of sweets.
Despite the consequences, health professionals agree that parents shouldn’t deprive their child of sweets. The key is to help children find a balance with food, helping them learn how to enjoy healthy foods and enjoy (and self-regulate) treats.
Allow children one sweet treat or dessert per day.
Good choices include animal crackers, vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Keep fruit drinks, soda and sugary beverages out of the house.
There’s no nutritional benefit to drinking sugar-sweetened beverages. For an alternative to soda, dilute 4 ounces unsweetened juice with 4 ounces seltzer water and flavor with lemon, lime or other fresh fruit.
Watch out for sugars in foods that you don’t think of as sweet.
Keep an eye on breads, sauces and condiments by searching ingredient lists for names such as high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, sucrose or other words ending in “ose,” evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, malt syrup and molasses. Food packages will soon list “added sugars” as a separate line on nutrition labels, so the amount of these sugars will no longer be “hidden.”
Remember, even natural sugar is sugar.
Many people think that “natural” sugars like honey and agave are healthier than ones that are more highly processed, like sucrose or table sugar. But when you look closely, you see that all of these sugars contain fructose and glucose. And while honey may offer some antioxidants, you would probably have to consume a lot of honey calories in order to experience any health benefits.
This doesn’t mean foods containing natural sugars aren’t healthy. But how these natural sugars are packaged matters.
A piece of whole fruit like an apple contains naturally occurring fructose, but it also delivers 4.4 grams of fiber, thanks to the peel and pulp. Apple juice, on the other hand, lacks fiber and is a more concentrated source of sugar and calories.