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Are Our Kids Too Sweet on Sugar?

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Drink cup fileld with marshmallows

A child’s diet lays the foundation for either a strong, healthy body or future health problems.  Statistics show that one in four children between the ages of 2 and 5 years old and one in three children between ages 6 and 19 are overweight or obese. One potential contributor to this problem is sugar. Sugar is associated with an increased risk for obesity and chronic diseases such as heart disease and high cholesterol among adolescents.

As a parent, you are constantly making decisions about what to feed your children. Sometimes, when you think you are guiding them toward better choices, those extra sugars can sneak in. The American Heart Association (AHA) released guidelines to set limits on the amount of added sugar considered acceptable for a healthy diet. Compare these recommendations to the shocking amounts of sugar our country’s children are currently consuming:

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Below is an example of what a child might eat in a single day. Watch the sugars add up quickly!

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Sweetened cereal, cookies, treats at parties and after sporting events, super-sized portions of sodas and sports drinks–these are just a few of the sugary challenges a parent is faced with. So what can you do to decrease the amount sugar in your child’s diet?

Tips to Slash Added Sugar:

  • Be a role model. You are their most influential teacher, so lead the way. Don’t drink a soda when you expect your child to have low-fat milk or water!
  • Take charge of the grocery cart. Purchase fewer foods that are high in added sugar.  If you do buy sweet treats, less is best. Look for pre-portioned foods such as single-serve frozen fudge pops instead of half gallon tubs of ice cream. Make sure to compare cereal and yogurt labels for sugar content.
  • You’re the provider. Instead of buying baked sweets, like cupcakes and cookies, fill your cart with fruits and vegetables. Wash and chop them so they are ready to eat. Freeze grapes, pineapple and bananas and create fruit kabobs with low fat vanilla yogurt as a dip. Make fruit fun!
  • Focus on colorful “whole” foods. Pack your grocery cart with seasonal produce like apples, berries, watermelon, grapes, carrots, broccoli and green beans.  Get your kids involved in picking out a new fruit and vegetable each week – engage them in the process.
  • Skip liquid candy! Avoid sugary beverages. A 12-ounce soda or lemonade contains about 9-10 teaspoons of sugar, which is more than three times what a 4 to 8 year old child should consume. Substitute with water or fat-free/low-fat milk. Add flavor to water with a tiny splash of 100% juice. Also limit juices to 4 ounces a day and substitute fruit instead for a healthy dose of fiber.
  • Moderation, not deprivation. Banning sweets is an invitation for kids (and adults!) to crave and over-indulge in them. They can be an occasional food, just not a food group!  For example, when at a party, your child can enjoy a cupcake now and an apple later.
  • Evolutionary, not revolutionary, change. If you are ready to do a pantry and refrigerator make-over, do it gradually. As you run out of cookies and ice cream, replace them with healthier options, such as 100-calorie pudding cups, graham crackers and more fresh fruit. After all, fruit is “nature’s candy!”

There’s a lot you can do as a parent to slash excess sugar and enable better choices for your children. Start now to lay a healthy foundation for our future generation. For more information on nutrition consultations visit the Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services website or call 972.560.2655.         

Article provided by: Patty Kirk, RDN, LD, registered dietitian nutritionist and licensed dietitian at Cooper Clinic.