By Lauren Ladd, MS, RD, LD
When it comes to overconsumption, Americans typically take the cake. Unfortunately, our young ones are no exception. A recent study found that toddlers in the United States are consuming too much added sugar, putting their health and wellbeing at risk. According to the World Health Organization, increased sugar intake throughout childhood can lead to a greater risk of tooth decay, obesity and metabolic diseases, including high cholesterol and diabetes.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 recommends that children ages 2 to18 years should consume no more than 25 grams, or six teaspoons, of added sugar daily.
Keeping track of how much sugar your child consumes can be tricky. Consumers should be aware that marketing towards young children and their parents can make sugar-laden foods look seemingly healthy, including yogurt, fruit pouches, applesauce, sport drinks and more.
Natural Sugars vs. Added Sugars
Some foods contain natural sugars which provide energy for daily tasks, such as lactose in milk and fructose in fruit. In addition to containing natural sugars, these foods provide an added benefit of vitamins, minerals and fiber. They are also considered complex carbohydrates, meaning our bodies have to work harder to break them down.
Parents looking to provide their children with sustained energy sources and whole foods packed with nutrients should consider swapping out processed foods with added sugars for healthier alternatives that have zero grams of added sugar.
Read Labels and Check the Ingredients!
Be aware that sugar also can hide under pseudonyms: brown sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, turbinado sugar and sucrose. Be sure to check labels for any added ingredients that may contain simple carbohydrates. Unlike complex carbohydrates, simple carbohydrates do not provide added fiber, vitamins or minerals, which means they get readily absorbed in our blood and stored as added fat.
Even sweeteners that are considered natural, such as honey and agave nectar, should be carefully consumed since they are considered simple sugars that can also blood sugar spikes. Keep in mind that honey should never be given to babies under the age of 1 due to risk of botulism.
Need Help Managing Your Child’s Sugar Intake?
Food labels containing nutrition facts have recently undergone a makeover to provide a more realistic serving size and a breakdown of the amount of added sugar the food contains.
Try These Kid-Friendly Recipes
For simple ideas on creating healthier, kid-friendly dietary choices that limit their intake of hidden sugars, consider these recipes:
Lauren Ladd, MS, RD, LD, is a clinical dietitian at Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital. For more recipe ideas and extensive nutrition education for children, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics or the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).