Simple Ways to Reduce Your Child’s Daily Sugar Intake
Did you know children get 16 percent of their daily caloric intake from sugars? This high-sugar diet can quickly lead to childhood obesity, insulin resistance, and high cholesterol—all of which increases your child’s cardiovascular risk profile.
The good news is, you don’t have to eliminate sugar altogether. Here are a few simple ways to mitigate sugar intake and stay within their recommended daily allowance (RDA).
First: Know Your Child’s RDA for Sugar Intake
Step one in reducing your child’s daily sugar intake is to know how much sugar is recommended for each day. These guidelines were recently updated in August of 2016 to account for the high sugar levels health professionals are seeing in children. The newest RDA is no more than 25 grams of added sugar daily, as set by the American Heart Association (AHA). This equals roughly 6 teaspoons, with each teaspoon accounting for nearly 4 grams, according to That Sugar Movement.
Read the Label for Added Sugars
You may be surprised that even some of the healthiest foods on the shelf are sweetened with added sugars, like nut butter, organic granola, yogurt, and most condiments. First, however, it’s important to differentiate between added sugars and natural sugars. The breakdown is pretty simple:
“Naturally occurring sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). Added sugars are sugars and syrups put in foods during preparation or processing, or added at the table,” explains the AHA. In fact, added sugars can be found in 74 percent of foods in the grocery store today.
This means, when checking food labels, don’t check its sugar contents (not yet). This will reflect both added and naturally occuring sugars, though splitting total sugar between natural and added will be required on most packaging by July 2018. Still, we don’t know what foods qualify for this label change, so start with the ingredients list. This is how you’ll be able to differentiate between the two.
As you’re perusing for added sugars, remember that they have many names—61 to be exact. Check out this full list of names for sugar and keep it handy for grocery trips. As you see them more on more labels, you’ll start to recognize the names faster.
You may be thinking: Should we just ditch sugar altogether? The answer isn’t necessarily yes or no. You and your child don’t need to say bye to sugar altogether. You do however, want to focus on transitioning from high-sugar habits to a low-sugar—and low-added sugar—routine. The easy way to do this is to simply focus on eating whole foods, along with prepared foods that are lower in added sugar, added sugar being anything that’s not naturally occuring in the food. Note that some labels now specify grams of natural versus added sugars. If the product you want doesn’t do that, simply check the label for yourself, looking for any of these 61 different terms for added sugar.
It’s also important to remember that if your child is whining and pushing back because they don’t like the taste or want their usual foods that this transition isn’t easy. If they’ve only had high-sugar foods most of their life, they’ll need time to adjust.
Humans are also biologically wired to want sugar. That’s why products like Healthy Height Shake Mix are perfect for your growing kid. It’s made with organic cane sugar, accounting for just 3 grams of added sugar per scoop. This is a great product for ensuring that your child is staying within their sugar limits, and getting the nutrients they need, like vitamin A and protein.
Limit Beverages Other Than Water And Milk
Beverages put kids on the fast-track to overconsumption of sugar. In fact, the CDC’s 2017 report, Sugar-sweetened Beverage Consumption Among U.S. Youth, paints a very clear picture about sugar consumption and beverages among children:
- Almost two-thirds of boys and girls consumed at least one sugar-sweetened beverage on a given day.
- Boys consumed an average 164 kilocalories (kcal) from sugar-sweetened beverages, which contributed 7.3 percent of total daily caloric intake. Girls consumed an average 121 kcal from sugar-sweetened beverages, which contributed 7.2 percent of total daily caloric intake.
Sugar-sweetened beverages include the usual suspects, like soda and fruit juice, but that’s not all. Any pre-made beverage is likely to have added sugar, from cold black tea to any of the “artisan” drinks you see on grocery shelves today. Even “instant breakfast” drinks and similar products can have up to 19 grams of sugar per serving. That’s why it’s best to stick with two of the best options to reduce daily sugar intake: water and milk.
Kids and adults alike need plenty of water each day. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, your child’s RDA for water is as follows:
- 5 cups/day: Girls and boys, ages 4 to 8 years
- 7 cups/day: Girls, ages 9 to 13
- 8 cups/day: Boys, ages 9 to 13
- 8 cups/day: Girls, ages 14 to 18
- 11 cups/day: Boys, ages 14 to 18
Make sure your kid gets enough by encouraging them to drink water and not other sugar-sweetened beverages. If they “don’t like the taste” opt for a fruit infusing water bottle. Simply add their fruit of choice and the water will soak up the perfect hint of flavor. They can even take this to school, sports practice, and their friends’ houses.
Not only is cow’s milk nearly sugar free, with the exception of naturally occuring lactose, but it also has been found to help your child grow. A report by the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, Department of Pediatrics, University of Virginia found that, “In a cohort of children at age 4 years, the volume of milk consumed was associated with higher weight status and taller stature, while at 5 years, higher milk consumption continued to be associated with taller stature.”
While alternative milks are available, most found in the grocery store have added sugar for flavor and are higher in total calories. “It's not uncommon to find high calorie counts coupled with fewer nutrients. But unlike naturally sweet rice milk, oftentimes, sugar is added to improve the taste of milk, without additional nutrients,” according to a CNN report.
If your child can drink cow’s milk, encourage that. Just remember this recommendation from the National Institutes of Health: “A child who is 1 or 2 years old should only drink whole milk. This is because the fat in whole milk is needed for your child's developing brain. After 2 years old, children can drink low-fat milk or even skim milk if they are overweight.”
Focus on Whole Foods at Breakfast
While sugar can be found in fruit, and some vegetables, this naturally occurring sugar is called fructose, and is less of a concern than added sugars. Fruits are critical to your child’s diet, and contain fiber, which is also important for their growing bodies. But don’t be fooled when you see fructose on a food’s label. This is when fructose is used as an added sugar, or what’s also called “free sugar.” That Sugar Movement explains:
“Fructose in fruit is encased in fibre which hugely affects its metabolism in our bodies. The fibre helps to slow down the absorption and so it doesn’t get fast, direct access to the liver like it does when it is ‘free’.”
One of the simplest way to avoid fructose and other added sugars is to focus on eating all whole foods. The best way to do that is to cook at home whenever possible. This is especially important for breakfast, when your little one is likely to reach for a sugary bowl of cereal or box of pop-tarts.
You may be thinking: The morning is when I have the least amount of time to cook! Now what? Luckily, there are many ways to get whole foods to your growing kids for breakfast. Here are a few ideas to prep on Sunday and freeze or refrigerate for later:
- Homemade Protein Toaster Waffles for Kids
- Oatmeal, Apple and Banana Muffins
- Freezer Breakfast Burritos
- Overnight Oatmeal - Six Recipes
- 2-Ingredient Pancakes
- Healthy Sugar-Free Granola
If you don’t have time for prep, focus on quick and easy foods that you can count on. For example:
- Plain, organic yogurt with fruit of choice and whole grain granola
- Hard boiled eggs
- Protein shakes (try this Protein-Powered Strawberry Banana Smoothie)
- Whole grain toast with nut butter (no added sugar!)
Try New Desserts
Desserts are an easy place for sugar to sneak in, but your little ones don’t have to go into sugar-overload to enjoy a sweet, evening treat. Start by re-thinking the choices your kids make in the dessert aisle. While most are laden with sugar, there are a wide variety of low-sugar dessert products that kids will still love. Check out which brands made the list for SELF’s 2017 Healthy Food Awards.
The best option, however, is to simply make dessert at home. You choose the recipe and ingredients, putting you and your child in control of how much sugar you’re consuming. While cookies are an obvious go-to option, there are dozens of other tasty treats that can easily be made at home and are sure to appease any sweet tooth.
Be sure to try our delicious Chocolate Banana Nice Cream recipe and check out this awesome list of sugar-free desserts from Brit + Co to inspire your own creations.
Keep serving size in mind when dishing out desserts, low-sugar or otherwise. A half-size serving may be best for your child to keep them within their RDA limits.
Reduce Daily Sugar Intake for Your Child
Don’t let your child’s sugar habits affect them for the rest of their life. Take control of their daily sugar intake now with these simple ideas. Bonus: you’ll eat less sugar too, which helps the whole family stay healthy and happy.