Although we are constantly bombarded with contradictory information about what’s healthy and what’s not, most experts agree that eating too much sugar is a problem — especially for children. The trouble is that sugar is in just about everything we eat! From store bought pasta sauce to bread to lunch meat, it is hidden in places we often don’t think about. Although it may be unrealistic to avoid sweets altogether, we need to make a conscious choice in order to cut back on our family’s sugar consumption.
There are so many negative side effects from eating too much added sugar (primarily table sugar and high fructose corn syrup which have no nutritious benefit). Sugar has been shown to be extremely addictive, and it is directly correlated with weight gain, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. Consuming too much added sugar causes inflammation and headaches. Kids can become very hyperactive and their overall brain function is reduced.
According to the World Health Organization, 4-6 year olds should be consuming a maximum of 19g, or 5 teaspoons of added sugar a day and 7-10 year olds a maximum of 24g or 6 teaspoons. Children of all ages should keep added sugar at 5% or less of the total amount of calories consumed. The American Heart Association estimates, however, that the average 1-3 year old consumes about 12 teaspoons of added sugar a day and 4-8 year olds average 21 teaspoons!
There are many ways in which we can reduce the added sugar in our kid’s diets:
Plan ahead for snacks and meals. Take sugar-free snacks with you on the go so you aren’t tempted to stop and pick up convenience foods that are often packed with added sugar. Nut butters, fresh fruits and vegetables, rice cakes, hummus and trail mix can be great options that are easy to travel with.
Be aware of how much sugar is in the food we buy. Look more closely at ingredient and nutrition labels (keep an eye out for new FDA mandated nutrition labels that will include the amount of “added sugars” in each serving). Just by comparing labels of similar ingredients and swapping the brands we buy can significantly reduce the amount of sugar we bring into our homes.
Avoid sugary breakfast cereals. Starting off your child’s day with a sugar boost only increasing cravings throughout the day. Instead try oatmeal with a teaspoon of maple syrup or eggs with whole grain toast.
Eliminate sugary drinks, including fruit juice. We know about soft drinks and lemonade containing lots of sugar, but even 100% fruit juice contains very little fiber and more sugar than nutrients. Stick to fresh, whole fruits to get the right balance of sweetness and nutrition. Try freezing whole fruit, such as berries, and adding them to water, seltzer or milk for a fun, refreshing drink.
Cook with whole foods. By making your own family meals and snacks it is much easier to control the amount of sugar children are consuming. Be especially cautious of using processed foods and store-bought sauces, which often have a very high sugar and sodium content.
Lead by example. By changing our own eating habits and switching to less sugary foods, kids will be much more willing to join us. It is never too early to educate kids on the dangers of eating too much sugar. Have fun teaching them about nutrient-rich foods by cooking and eating them together.
Try this delicious, healthy recipe for those hot summer days when kids crave a cool treat:
BANANA “NICE” CREAM
2-3 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced into ½ inch slices
Milk (any kind, optional)
Pinch of salt
Directions: Freeze banana pieces in an airtight container or ziploc bag for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight). The riper the bananas, the sweeter the ice cream. Then take the bananas out of the freezer and process with a food processor or blender, adding the salt and up to 2 tablespoons of milk. You can also use add-ins at this stage, such as a tablespoon of nut butter, cocoa powder or a teaspoon of cinnamon. Be creative! Process until the mixture resembles soft serve ice cream. You can eat it right away or put back in the freezer for half an hour for a slightly firmer texture.
by Sarah Nieminski