Sugar, sugar, everywhere: blueberry muffins and juice for breakfast. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with fruit punch and Oreos for lunch. Fruit snacks and cupcakes at a school party. Ice cream with dinner.
As a nation – and even around the globe – we are eating far too much sugar every day, and our children are no exception.
In an effort to help combat the massive amounts of sugar humans are eating each day, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that children eat no more than 12 grams or 3 teaspoons of sugar per day. Similarly, the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines suggest that people eat less than 5% of their daily calories from sugar, versus the previous suggestion of 10%.
A survey commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control, called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that there are five categories of food and drinks from which children are getting excessive amounts of sugar each day:
- Non-juice drinks, such as soda, and sports/energy drinks
- Fruit drinks (including 100% fruit juice)
- Grain-based sweets like snack cakes and cookies
- Dairy desserts, such as puddings
I applaud the steps that the AHA and WHO are taking to bring attention to this issue, because excessive sugar intake is such a pervasive problem. However, I am worried that people will focus too much on this one aspect of their diets.
In my opinion, elimination of specific categories of foods misses the bigger picture. We’re not consuming as much of the foods we were designed to eat. Not enough “whole” foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and unprocessed meats.
If we ate mostly whole foods and less of processed foods, many of the diet-related diseases like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure could possibly be eliminated – or at least reduced significantly. The amount of sugar our children consumed would be drastically cut as well, because processed foods contain high amounts of sugar, which adds more calories and no nutritional value.
As a dietitian in the Center for Better Health and Nutrition, I think it’s a step in the right direction for anyone to reduce sugar as a way to promote a healthier lifestyle and ward off diet-related diseases. I also think that parents need practical suggestions that don’t require a lot of time and effort. So I’ve compiled five easy ways to reduce sugar in your child’s diet.
5 Simple Ways to Reduce Sugar in Your Child’s Diet:
- Eliminate or drastically reduce sugary drinks. This includes sport/energy drinks, sodas, lemonade, fruit punch and even 100% fruit juice. Manufacturers of 100% fruit juice often add sugar to it. And even if there’s no sugar added to it, the process of juicing fruit typically eliminates the fiber once contained in the fruit. Thus, kids don’t feel full after drinking it and often overindulge.On average, a no-sugar-added 12-oz glass of orange or apple juice contains 40 grams of sugar. That’s the same as a can of cola. I suggest drinking more water and milk. Eat whole fruit instead (see #2).
- Serve more vegetables and fruits. Children (and even adults!) should eat 5-9 servings of produce per day such as apples, carrots, broccoli, bananas, and peppers. Whole fruit and vegetables contain water and fiber, which will help kids to feel full. Plus, research tells us that chewing is an important part of satiety.
- Eat whole foods that aren’t processed. Eating more foods in their natural state will not only ensure that you know what is in them, but will eliminate added sugars.
- Cook more at home. I realize this is a tough one, but the more you can cook for your family at home, the more control you have over the foods that you eat. Restaurants often add sugar (and lots of salt and fat) to enhance the taste of the foods on their menu. But these additives aren’t necessary for making foods taste good.
- Pack snacks ahead of time. If you’re out and about with your kids, it’s tempting to give in and grab a snack from the candy aisle, snack counter, or vending machine. But if you plan ahead of time and bring snacks with you, it’s possible to avoid this scenario. Fruits, veggies and dips (hummus, nut butters), trail mix, and nuts all travel well.