Too much of anything is not good, especially sugar. “A diet high in added sugars is strongly associated with weight gain, obesity, insulin resistance, abnormal cholesterol and fatty liver disease in children and all of these increase future cardiovascular risk,” says Dr. Miriam Vos, nutrition scientist and lead author of the American Heart Association (AHA) recommendations for children’s sugar intake.
The new recommendations, released in August, say that children ages 2 to 18 years old should only get a maximum of six teaspoons (about 25 grams) of added sugars a day. To give you an idea of how much this is, a regular 25mL juice box already contains 23 grams of added sugar. So how do you make sure your child stays within the recommendations? Here are some tips from the AHA: 1. Stay away from sugar-sweetened drinks. One of the most common sources of added sugars is sweet drinks. We’re talking about soft drinks, fruit-flavored drinks (whether in mix powder or ready-to-drink bottles), sports drinks, and energy drinks. If your child does drink sugar-sweetened drinks, Dr. Vos advises to limit it to once a week. Stick to water during mealtimes so your child doesn’t get used to having sweet drinks (like iced tea) with lunch and dinner.
2. Skip the sweet processed foods aisle. Sweet processed foods are loaded with added sugar. We’re talking about cookies, chocolate-coated biscuits, fudge bars, packed cupcakes, and sweet cereals. Did you know that six sandwich cookies is already 22g of added sugar?
3. Know how to read the “nutrition facts” table. When buying processed food like cereal and juices, ignore the front of the package! Instead, check the nutritional information table at the back or on the side. It’s where the real info is and decoding it is not as complicated as you think. And, it only takes a few seconds.
First, if the package is not single-serving (like a pack of cookies), check how much is one serving size. This is usually found right at the top of the table. Is one serving composed of three pieces of cookies? Then, go down the list to “total carbohydrates.” Here you’ll find “sugars” and how much grams of it is in one serving. If one serving amounts to 100 grams, ideally it should only have 5 grams of sugar, according to BBC Good Food.
4. You can still have sweets, but be smart about it. Limiting your child’s sugar intake is easy to say but -- let's be honest -- it may be a bit difficult. If we can't throw the sugar out completely, the AHA advices that you add a limited amount of sugar (not spoonful after spoonful!) to healthy, nutrient-packed food like unsweetened, whole-grain cereal or milk to make them more appealing to kids. You can try brown sugar and honey, too. It’s a much better alternative than giving your child packaged sweet food with little nutritional value.
5. Serve healthy snacks. The best way to avoid added sugars, says Dr. Vox, is to serve foods that are high in nutrition. For snacks that would mean not only fruits and vegetables but also whole-grain (like popcorn and wheat bread) and low-fat dairy (like cheese and yogurt). Replace sweetened juice boxes in the fridge with single-serve milk boxes. Cut up fruits and veggies into bite-sized pieces, put them in a container and store in the fridge where they can catch the eye of hungry kids. Have fat-free microwaveable popcorn always at the ready. Serve up warm wheat pandesal with a cream cheese spread.