Many parents don’t pay much attention to their child’s sugar consumption. Sugary foods and beverages are everywhere in our day-to-day lives. We celebrate academic achievements with a trip to the bakery or reward eating vegetables with a brownie. Birthday celebrations call for cake and ice cream. Yet nutrition experts warn that everyone should limit the amount of sugar in their diet.
Why Should I Care about How Much Sugar My Child Eats?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasizes the importance of eating nutrient-dense foods instead of foods with empty calories that don’t build health. Here are some reasons:
- Foods with high amounts of added sugar can crowd out the nutrient-dense food that your growing child needs to build health. If your child snacks on candy and soda after school, they may not be hungry enough to eat the baked chicken, brown rice and steamed broccoli on their plate at dinner.
- Foods with added sugars are higher in calories. It’s hard for children to stay within their recommended calorie allowance and eat enough nutrient-dense foods if they often consume sugar-sweetened drinks, candy, cookies and other sweets on a regular basis.
- Excess calories can lead to obesity. In the United States about 41% of children and teens are either overweight or obese. Obesity increases health risks and can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
How Much Added Sugar Is Too Much?
Added sugars are those that are added during the manufacturing process or at the table. Don’t confuse added sugars with natural sugars. Natural sugars found in unprocessed food, such as lactose in milk or fructose in whole fruit, aren’t the problem. Unprocessed foods are nutrient-dense —they contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients.
Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting added sugar to no more than 10 percent of the calorie allowance. For a 10-year-old child with a calorie allowance of 1600 calories per day, that’s 16 grams or about 40 teaspoons of added sugar per day.
Nutritional Facts Labels show how much added sugar is in the processed food that you buy. The amount is listed in grams. Divide the number of grams by 4 to estimate how many teaspoons of sugar are in a serving.
How Do I Reduce the Amount of Added Sugar That My Child Consumes?
Don’t leave the amount of sugar that your child consumes to chance. Here are some steps to take:
- Know the recommended amount of sugar for your child. Go to www.myplate.gov/myplate-plan to calculate your child’s daily calorie allowance. The recommended amount of sugar (in grams) is 10% of that number.
- Limit the amount of soda, sports drinks, fruit drinks and other drinks with added sugar that your child consumes. Sugar-sweetened drinks are the top source of added sugar consumption in the United States.
- Choose whole fruit instead of fruit juice or fruit drinks. Many fruit drinks contain high amounts of added sugars, are high in calories and don’t offer the benefit of fiber contained in the whole fruit.
- Limit processed foods, such as packaged snacks and sweetened breakfast cereals, as much as possible.
- Make sure your child gets food from all five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy. See www.myplate.gov for advice on how to optimize your family’s nutrition.
- Involve children in checking labels for added sugars. This will teach them how to make wise food choices.
How Many Teaspoons of Sugar Are in
Common Drinks and Snacks?
Grams of Added Sugars Teaspoons of Sugar
per Serving (approximate)
Coca-Cola (1 can) 39 10
Borden Chocolate Milk 26 7
Juicy Juice Fruit Punch 26 7
Oatmeal Creme Pie 12 3
Granola bar (Oats & Honey) 11 3
Corn Pops (1 1/3 cups) 15 4
Nutella spread (2 tablespoons) 21 5
Yoplait Strawberry Go Gurt 18 5
Information taken directly from food packaging.
To figure out how about much sugar a food contains,
divide the total grams of sugar listed on the package by 4.
4 grams of sugar = about 1
Brenda Schoolfield is a medical writer and editor who lives in Austin. Sugar, her cocker spaniel, and sometimes a rescue foster dog or two keep her company while she writes.