Healthy Children - May 2016

The Not-So-Sweet Scoop on Sugar

As parents, we make hundreds of decisions daily about what we feed our children and ourselves. We think about schedules, budgets, food preferences and what is best for health and growth of our children. When we hear about new nutrition information, how do we apply that information along with all the other things we have to consider?

Sugar is one example. The new USDA recommendation is that we limit added sugar in our diet to no more than 10% of our daily calories. This amount will depend on our age and physical activity level, but the average is between 60 and 10 teaspoons for moderately active school-aged children and adults. The average American currently consumes at least double that amount with 23 teaspoons consumed per day.

How many of us have had the experience where an unhappy child was soothed with some sweet treat? Our taste for sweets is part of our biology. Sweet foods have energy that our bodies need to function. In fact, many healthy foods such as fruits, grains, and milk have natural sugars along with nutrients they provide. However, our modern world is over flowing with processed foods that have huge amounts of added sugar. Many of these foods have empty calories from sugar, or calories that do not provide our body with any necessary nutrients. Our bodies are overwhelmed by too much sugar and too many calories and this contributes to long term health problems like obesity, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

So what decisions can we make to cut back on added sugars in our diets? One place to start is with beverages. A 12 oz. can of soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar. That is about the recommended limit for our whole day! The following tips are other ways we can enjoy foods without all the added sugar.

  • Drink water, low-fat milk, or calorie free flavored water.
  • Prepare fruits for a sweet alternative to packaged desserts or baked goods. For the kids: cut and arrange fruits to make flowers, animals or other fun shapes. For adults: add nuts, cinnamon or unsweetened coconut flakes to liven up the flavor.
  • Read labels to find packaged foods with less sugar. Yogurt is a healthy choice, but some flavored yogurts can have as much added sugar as a soda. Instead get plain yogurt and add your own fresh or frozen fruits.
  • Cut back on sugar at breakfast. Read labels to find some breakfast cereals without as much added sugar. Ingredients are listed by weight. So if sugar falls at the top of the list, consider a different option.
  • Save desserts and other sweet treats for special occasions, not everyday meals.

contributed by Sherri Ambrose, MS Nutrition  University of Illinois Extension Educator