January is Sugar Awareness Month, so let’s start with some surprising facts.
- Every day, 63% of kids and 49% of adults in the U.S. drink a sugary beverage. That’s about 39 grams of sugar.
- The daily American Heart Association limit for sugar is about 25 grams, but the average American eats about 82 grams of sugar a day.
- The World Health Organization agrees with the 25 gram limit for sugar, but wants to see the sugar in question come from fruit and other naturally-occurring sugars. That 82 grams mentioned above doesn’t include natural sugar.
- A typical American 8 year old eats 64 lbs of sugar each year.
- 80% of packaged foods contain added sugar.
Bottom line: we eat and drink a lot more sugar than we should. Does it really matter how much sugar our kids eat, though? As parents, we have to pick our battles. Is this a battle worth fighting?
Is sugar bad for kids?
Sugar has no nutritional value at all. It provides calories — energy — but no fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, or any other food value. This is an issue for children. If kids eat too much sugary food, they’re probably not getting the nutrition they need from their food. The sugar and its calories can crowd out the healthy foods kids need. They may also be getting extra calories.
Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the U.S., and sugary treats are a major reason.
Eating lots of sugar is associated with a lot of ailments:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Cognitive decline
- Alzheimer’s disease
Many of these health issues are problems for adults — even the elderly — and not for children. Does that mean that sugar is okay for kids?
Unfortunately, no. Type 2 diabetes is now seen in kids as well as adults. Obesity is becoming common among American kids. And the other problems are the result of many years of too much sugar.
What’s more, sugar has some elements in common with addictive substances. Developing the sugar habit as a kid makes it harder to restrict sugar later in life.
Now that we’re aware…
So we know that we take in too much sugar and we know that there can be health consequences for excessive sugar consumption. How can we help our kids cut back on sweets?
- Be a good example. Adults and kids eat and drink more sugar than we should. Make it a family goal to cut down on sugar.
- Avoid hidden sugars. 80% of prepared foods contain sugar, and sometimes the amounts can be surprising. If your spaghetti sauce has 12 grams per serving and your salad dressing has 7, you haven’t left room for dessert in your sugar budget. Read labels and choose foods with less sugar.
- Limit sweet snacks. Kids may need snacks because they can’t eat enough in three meals to provide the energy they need during the day. But recent studies suggest that American kids average four snacks per day. Some eat as many as 10 times a day. Try to have planned snack times, such as after school, and go with nutritious fruits, nuts, and vegetables instead of cookies and candy.
- Give up sodas. Just cutting out sugary drinks could cut your sugar intake in half. Kids should have milk at meals and water in between. If you can give up one thing, this would be the best choice.
- Eat more fruit. Dried fruits, fresh fruit, and even fruit smoothies bring nutrition that cookies and candies don’t. Swap fruit for extra sweets to help get your family out of the sweet eating habit.
- Give yourself time. Some people can cut out sugar by going cold turkey. If that doesn’t work for your family, take a gradual approach. If your child is eating five cookies a day, work your way down to four, then three, then two. Reduce sugar in recipes a little at a time till you reach your goal. Your tastes will adapt over time.