By Jodi Helmer | Edited by Elena Doxey
Hearing your child is “so sweet” may have a double meaning these days. Controlling your child’s sugar intake by providing healthier options can not only boost their mood but can ward off disease, increase their mental function, and reduce inflammation.
Truth in numbers
Last year, the American Heart Association (AHA) tightened the strings on the existing US dietary guidelines to keep kids healthier with the recommendation to lower the consumption of calories coming from sugar. Under existing guidelines, for moderately active 4-to-8-year-olds who consume 1,500 calories per day, the amount of acceptable added sugar intake would equal 33 grams of sugar daily. The AHA slashed these existing numbers by issuing stricter guidelines, recommending kids consume less than six teaspoons of sugar per day, or 24 grams daily, and that kids and teens should limit their intake of sugary drinks to eight ounces per week.
Parents are doing a good job in getting these numbers down; however, recent studies show sugary beverages are still the culprit on added sugar consumption. Drinking sugar-packed beverages adds virtually no nutritional benefit to a person’s diet. In fact, the empty calories may be responsible for the onset of some diseases commonly found in adults, such as fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes.
According to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, in the 2011-2014 time period, approximately two-thirds of America’s children drank at least one sugar-laden beverage a day; with almost 30% consuming two or more per day—which well exceeds the recommended amount.
What’s in a name? Apparently more than we thought. There are approximately 56 different names for sugar that lurks in our foods. Even the savviest nutritional label sleuths may miss these hidden sugars. Names like ‘barley malt’ and ‘sorghum syrup’ might not be as obvious as ‘cane sugar’ and ‘molasses,’ but they are sugars just the same.
Negative health effects to kids
Some sugar in our diets is healthy, but dousing pancakes in syrup or eating bowls of sugary cereal will only leave our kids craving more sugar and put them on the road to sugar-related problems.
Here are some common dangers of increased sugar intake in kids:
- Cavities—According to the American Dental Association, tooth decay is the most chronic childhood disease in America. It’s hard to say ‘no’ when your kid asks for a lollipop or sugary candy, but just remember they can be as detrimental to your kid’s teeth as those sugary soft drinks.
- Obesity—The rise of childhood obesity and obesity-related health problems has been linked to the increased consumption of sugar. Parents, here’s a quick guideline to keep in mind when reading nutritional labels. Each gram of sugar contains four calories―so if a food contains 15 grams of sugar per serving, that equates to 60 calories coming from sugar alone.
- Decreased mental activity—Research shows consuming large amounts of sugar may have a negative impact on brain structure and function.
- Inflammation—There may be a connection between sugar intake and the production of yeast, which can trigger inflammation, low energy levels and brain fog.
Ask any parent and they’ll say their kids love sugar. Research suggests even from the moment a baby leaves the womb, they are naturally inclined to crave sugar. This leaves parents throwing their hands in the air thinking they’re doomed from the start, but the reality is with some witty coaching and a nurturing approach, you could have your kids eating healthier and “out of your hands” in no time.
Here are a few tips:
- Don’t eliminate their favorite treats—We don’t want our kids to think they are being punished by trying to eat healthy. Try scaling back portions instead. They’ll still get their fix while you won’t be deemed the bad guy.
- Don’t skip dessert—Who doesn’t love dessert? There’s a way to get around the calorie-packed, sugary desserts by substituting healthier fruit-based desserts instead. Fruit is nature’s candy, and when cooked, reveals a new decadence that will have them coming back for more.
- Switch up the cereal—Kids love cereal and parents love the convenience, but eating sugary cereals in the morning can cause your kid to crash and burn when they’re at school. Look for the newest popular cereals now made with whole-grains and no added sugar. You can combat the lower sugar content with some slices of fresh fruit. You’ll not only add natural sugar, but some beneficial fiber and vitamins to their diet as well.
Although the body processes all sugars the same way, naturally occurring sugars offer added nutritional benefits such as vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals, compared to added sugars which simply add empty calories. Natural sugars still contain calories but in this case, it’s the quality of the calorie that matters.
Have questions or comments about healthy sugar options for your children? Contact us today!