Hidden sugar in children’s food and drinks can not only contribute to obesity and other physical conditions, but it can also affect a child’s mental health. Read on for more information about the dangers posed by sugar.
As the kids return to school, one thing you’ll have to be on the lookout for is hidden sugar in their lunch boxes. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests limiting sugary treats and drinks to reduce a child’s risk for obesity.
Problems Caused By Too Much Sugar
Eating sugary foods can make you feel full for a while, but your body is missing out on lots of good stuff — like proteins, vitamins and minerals which it could be getting from healthier food choices. Too many sugar-sweetened drinks are one of the main causes of kids becoming obese.
“Our bodies do not need sugar to function properly,” says Vanessa Slots, MD, Renown Pediatrician. “Added sugars contribute additional calories and add zero nutrients to food. The AAP guidelines for maximum daily added sugar are based on a percentage of the average daily caloric intake, which is why recommendations vary with age.”
How Much Sugar is Okay in Your Child’s Diet?
- Children less than 3 years of age should not have any added sugars. Only expose them to natural sugars, like those found in fruits and dairy products.
- Children 3-10 years of age should be limited to less than 3-4 teaspoons of added sugar daily.
- Pre-teens and teens have a maximum daily added sugar limit of 5-8 teaspoons daily, which closely mimics the recommendations for adults – adult women’s max is 6 teaspoons, and adult men’s max is 9 teaspoons.
Hidden Sugar By the Cup or Can
Clearly, it appears that drinks might be some of the worst culprits of hidden sugar. Dr. Slots gives some examples of the sugar content in common drinks:
- A 12-ounce glass of fruit punch has 10 teaspoons of sugar in it, which is the same amount of sugar as a 12-ounce can of soda.
- Alternatively, a 12-ounce sports drink has six teaspoons of sugar.
To figure out the amount of sugar of a beverage (or food item), divide the total amount of grams of sugar by four. Four grams of sugar equals roughly one teaspoon of sugar. So if a beverage has 24 grams of sugar, it equals about six teaspoons of sugar. Also note the number of servings in a beverage. Some beverages are more than one serving.
“You are not doing your child (or you) any benefit by choosing juice or a sports drink over a soda,” says Dr. Slots. “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting sugary drinks to less than 6 ounces per day, with a goal of zero sugary drinks daily.”
Drinks Vs. Treats: A Comparison
To put these sugary drinks in perspective, Dr. Slots gives some examples of the amount of added sugar in common treats:
- A Snickers candy bar has seven teaspoons of sugar
- One bowl of Frosted Flakes has nine teaspoons of sugar
- Four ounces of iced chocolate cake has 10 teaspoons of sugar
- One chocolate chip cookie has two teaspoons of sugar
Foods With the Most Hidden Sugar
But drinks aren’t the only problem. Check out this list of items with abundant hidden sugar — many of them that you’ll probably back in school lunches.
- Yogurt: There are many benefits to yogurt including calcium, but many brands marketed toward kids are flavored and full of sugar.
- Cereal: A breakfast staple for kids and adults alike, some children’s cereals may contain more than 40 percent more sugars than adult cereals.
- Granola bars: These quick and easy snacks are great for on-the-go, but even organic bars can be packed with sugar.
- Fruit snacks: The word fruit implies healthy, but many fruit snacks have upwards of 20 grams of sugar.
- Gluten-free, organic and natural foods: What could be unhealthy about these items? Even organic sugar is still sugar. Make sure to check the nutritional value on these types of foods.
Identifying Natural Versus Added Sugar on a Nutrition Label
When reading labels, first consider that both natural and added sugar are part of the total sugars and included in “sugars” on the nutrition label.
Next, check the ingredient list to determine what kind of sugar is in a product.
Other names for added sugar:
- Brown sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt sugar
- Raw sugar
- Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, glucose, maltose, sucrose)
Names for natural sugar:
- Fructose (found in fruit)
- Lactose (found in milk)
Learn more about sugar from the American Heart Association.
What’s All the Fuss About Added Sugar?
According to Dr. Slots, added sugars contribute to poor mental and physical health. They contribute to weight gain, which can lead to difficulty participating in daily activities, bullying, diabetes, heart disease, dental decay and so much more. “Sugar spikes are followed by low energy, which can make it difficult to concentrate,” she says. “Often, diets high in sugar are low in essential nutrients like calcium, vitamin A, Iron, Zinc, and Fiber.”
Natural sugars are often present in much smaller doses in food and are packed with other nutrients that help slow the absorption.
Helping Your Child Make Better Choices When it Comes to Sugar
Dr. Slots says that as a parent, it all starts with you. “First, be a role model and adopt the change as well. Second, don’t have sugary drinks and sugary snacks in the home. Limit these to once or twice weekly treats, at most. Third, look at the labels of the food you are buying.”
Dr. Slots offers these tips to cut down on added hidden sugar intake:
- Swap soda and juice for water.
- Add slices of fruit to your water for extra flavor.
- Opt for natural sugars by eating fresh, frozen and dried fruits. Eat these alone or add them to cereals, oatmeal and plain yogurt.
And finally, when baking, cut back on the amount of sugar used or swap it out for applesauce.