Sweet Enough: Watch for Hidden Sugar in Kids Foods

hidden sugar

You’re getting your child’s school lunch ready and you think you’re including healthy items like yogurt and granola – but are these foods really all they’re cracked up to be? Some of your kids’ favorite snacks may have more sugar in it than desserts.

(via CNN) We all know that cookies and candy aren’t the best foods for our kids, but are our go-to healthy snacks actually full of added sugars as well? Many items purchased in the grocery aisles that appear healthy are actually high in sugar to make them taste better.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has put out some new recommendations that suggest sugary beverages and sweets be limited to reduce a child’s risk for obesity, which has more than doubled in the last 30 years.

“Our bodies do not need sugar to function properly,” says Vanessa Slots, MDRenown 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. The only sugars they should be exposed to are natural sugars which are 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.

It appears that drinks might be some of the worst culprits of added sugar. Dr. Slots gives some examples of how much sugar is found in some 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. And a 12-ounce sports drink has six teaspoons of sugar.

“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.”

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 

  • 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% more sugars than adult cereals. sugar
  • 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 Labelsugar

When reading labels, both natural and added sugar are part of the total sugars and included in “sugars” on the nutrition label. 

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
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Malt sugar
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sugar
  • Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, glucose, maltose, sucrose)
  • Syrup

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. sugar_spoon

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. These should be limited 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 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. These can be eaten alone or added to cereals, oatmeal and plain yogurt.
  • When baking, cut back on the amount of sugar used or swap it out for applesauce.