High sugar intake has been linked to everything from dental cavities to obesity to Type 2 diabetes to heart disease to other health conditions — many of which last into adulthood. Minimizing added sugar is a priority for many parents, but it's not as simple as trading cookies and soda for fruit and water. Avoiding obvious sources is one thing, but added sugar can be found in many foods where you may not expect it.
According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, added sugars include sugars, syrups and other caloric sweeteners. Simply put, added sugars sweeten a food — and although they add calories, they offer virtually no nutrition.
On a nutrition label, sugar may appear under many names — more than 50, actually. Some of the most common ones include cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, raw sugar and crystal solids. And, don't forget brown sugar, honey, maple syrup and brown rice syrup.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommends Americans limit added sugars to no more than 10 percent of their daily calorie needs. That's about 12 teaspoons (48 grams of sugar) on a 2,000-calorie diet. But for kids — especially little kids, who may only need 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day — it's even less. The American Heart Association recommends three to four teaspoons for young kids, and five to eight teaspoons for pre-teens and teens. (There are about four grams of sugar in one teaspoon, so a food with 16 grams of sugar has four teaspoons.)
But, rather than obsessing over grams and teaspoons, focus on reducing added sugar intake by limiting products that contain it.
Some sources of added sugar are easy to spot, such as:
However, added sugar can hide in some surprising places, including:
The first step in reducing your family's added sugar intake takes place in the grocery store. Scan labels for added sweeteners and, instead, fill your shopping cart with healthier options. Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, a blogger and mother of two, recommends reaching for naturally sweet foods. Her favorites? "Fruit! Lots of veggies are naturally sweet too, especially bell peppers, carrots and sugar snap peas," she says.
When it comes to beverages, Kuzemchak recommends water and milk. "Many other beverages have ingredients kids don't need, like caffeine, added sugar and artificial dyes or sweeteners," says Kuzemchak.
You can also reduce added sugar intake at home by cooking from scratch. By making your own granola, pasta sauce and condiments and serving homemade baked treats, you are in control of the ingredients used. "With baking recipes, I frequently cut the sugar with no negative effect to the recipe or to how much my family likes it," Kuzemchak says. "I usually start by cutting it by a quarter and go lower if possible."
One common source of added sugar is flavored yogurt. You can start reducing added sugar intake from yogurt by mixing half a serving of flavored yogurt with half a serving of plain, unsweetened yogurt. This trick works with cereal too. As your family's taste buds adjust, gradually use less and less of the sweetened varieties.
Make a healthy relationship with food the overall focus instead of a completely sugar-free diet. Encourage positive associations with foods such as fruits and vegetables by playing up their good qualities and fresh taste — and save the sweet stuff for special occasions.