EDITOR's NOTE:Dr. Michelle Cardel, PhD, RD is the Gainesville Lunch Out Blog's resident expert on all important food information that is healthy, smart, and good for your body, mind, stomach and waistline. Dr. MC shares smart food advice with GLOBers on a regular basis and looks forward to answering, discussing any food questions you might have.
Children's sugar allowance not so sweet
America's kids today are no strangers to sugar: They are consuming an average of 18 teaspoons of added sugar a day (about 320 calories). Added sugar is sugar that is not naturally present in foods like it is in fruit. New recommendations from the American Heart Association (AHA), however, are not sweet on sugar. An AHA panel of health and nutrition experts* recommend that children from 2 all the way up to 18 years of age should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day (about 100 calories).
The recommendations also advise that children under the age of 2 should have no added sugar in their diets. In an editorial accompanying the AHA recommendations, taste expert, Dr. Julie Mennella, and Dr. Samuel Gidding, a cardiologist agreed: "Food habits are established by 2 years of ageâ€“if 'we are what we eat,' then what a child eats during early life is what the child will become." Essentially, introducing added sugar into the diet of children under the age of 2 when they are still developing their food habits can, years later, increase their preference for sweetness and, thus, their sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.
Added sugars include table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, and molasses. The top sources in foods and drinks consumed by kids consist of soda, fruit-flavored and sports drinks, cakes, and cookies, all of which have nearly zero nutritional value. In order to achieve the new recommendations of no more than 6 teaspoons a day of sugar (100 calories) for children over the age of 2, AHA also recommended that sugar-sweetened beverages be limited to ONE a WEEK and the amount be only 8 ounces. This includes not just sodas and sports and energy drinks, but also teas and fruit-flavored drinks with added sugar.
Besides possible cavities caused by sugar, excessive amounts of sugar in a child's diet displaces healthier foods, can lead to weight gain, and increases the risk for heart disease. Because adults are not immune to consuming excess amounts of sugar, I suggest all Americans read this report, which provides a very thorough explanation of all the different types of sugars and their sources.
To help your children meet the AHA recommendations on limiting sugar consumption, here are some tips:
If you want your child to eat or drink healthy foods and beverages, you should eat and drink them in front of your child. It's hard to get kids to drink more water if they don't see you drinking water.
Pack your kid's lunch with a water bottle or milk, not a sugary drink. Another option is unsweetened soda water that has fruit extracts.
Do not keep sugar-sweetened beverages in your home. This will curb your child's consumption of them and help save money.
Replace highly processed snacks like cookies with fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Instead of baking cookies or cakes at home regularly, save them for special occasions like holidays and birthdays. Experiment with new, kid-friendly, healthy recipes like Apple Nachos available at the AHA website or Bookworm Apple Bark and Technicolor Vegetable Pizza available at Fruits and Veggies More Matters, a website hosted by a non-profit organization that has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
*The AHA statement was made on behalf of its Nutrition Committee of the Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health; Council on Clinical Cardiology; Council on Cardiovascular Disease in the Young; Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing; Council on Epidemiology and Prevention; Council on Functional Genomics and Translational Biology; and Council on Hypertension.
EDITOR's NOTE: Michelle Cardel, PhD, RD, is an obesity and nutrition scientist and registered dietitian at the University of Floridaâ€™s Department of Health Outcomes and Policy in the College of Medicine.