Mardi Gras, Easter, birthday celebrations, class parties, Halloween, Christmas–the excuses for consuming unhealthy amounts of sugars knows no limits! Many New Year’s resolutions are totally derailed by the January introduction of king cakes into the bakery section of every grocery store. We all know that, as adults, we should be limiting our sugar consumption, but how is the sweet stuff affecting our little ones? A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that children consume an unhealthy amount of added sugars every day. Toddlers eat an average of seven teaspoons of added sugar daily!
Added Sugar vs. Natural Sugar
Not all sugars are served up equally! Natural sugars are the sugars that occur naturally in our foods. Foods like fruits and vegetables contain natural sugars, but also contain water, fiber, vitamins, and nutrients that our bodies need.
Added sugars are additional sugar carbohydrates that are added to our foods during their production. Added sugars are used to sweeten foods and provide no nutritional value. In fact, they can make otherwise healthy foods an unhealthy choice. You can identify added sugars by looking for the following on the label: corn syrup, sucrose (table sugar), dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, and malt sugar among others.
Slippery, Sugary Slope
Dr. Rodger Elofson, with Associates in Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, shares, “The American Heart Association’s newest recommendation for children 2-18 years old is NO more than 25 gm, or 6 tsp, of added sugar per day and no more than 8 ounces of sugar-sweetened drinks per week. This reduces heart disease risks by helping prevent obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. For infants and toddlers under two years old, there should be no added sugar. It is hoped that this will change future taste preferences in those individuals, so they enjoy less sugary items as they age.”
Sugar and Oral Health
While sugar may taste pleasant, the effects on our mouths are anything but! “Added sugar in the diet, especially in high frequency consumption, can put children at a higher risk for dental caries (cavities),” reports Dr. Paige Sigsworth with Associates in Pediatric Dentistry. “If dental caries are left untreated, the risk is possible rapid involvement of the nerve of the tooth, leading to infections, and possibly life-threatening fascial space involvement. Such infections may result in a medical emergency requiring hospitalization, antibiotics, and extractions of the offending tooth. Other consequences of dental caries are high treatment costs, loss of school days, diminished concentration and learning, and diminished oral health-related quality of life. Prevention is best through avoiding frequent consumption of high sugar containing foods and drinks, maintaining routine dental checks, fluoride applications, and maintaining proper oral hygiene.”
Everything in Moderation
Don’t misunderstand the professional advice to mean that your kid will have to pass on that yummy slice of birthday cake at his friend’s next birthday party. But, there are some changes that can be made to help toddlers eat sugars in a healthier manner. For instance, trade those fruit snacks for real fruit. Pair natural sugars with protein, such as apples with some peanut butter.
When making decisions about the foods kept on hand, Dr. Elofson urges, “Understand that one 3/4 cup serving of Lucky Charms or two chocolate chip cookies contain 2 1/2 (10 gm) of sugar.”
Dr. Elofson continues, “The worst offenders of added sugar are sports drinks, sodas, desserts and fruit juices. These are full of ‘empty calories’ with little nutritional value. Many younger children are often rewarded for appropriate behavior with food, many of these sugar-laden sweets. A better way to reward children for proper behavior is with sticker charts. If you use food, use dried fruit or trail mix instead of M&M’s. Children should eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, along with whole grain products. Proper nutrition helps our children live longer and healthier.”
Low Sugar Options Your Kid Will Actually Eat
Vanessa Richard, who is a registered dietitian with Eat Fit BR, realizes that most parents will choose snacks for their children based on what is most convenient for them at the time. “Parents look for quick snacks that they know their kids will eat. Kids want the sweet and salty snacks.”
When asked what snacks she keeps on hand for her own three children, Richard shares, “My go-tos are raisins, individually wrapped 100 percent fruit leathers or pressed fruit, dried fruit bites, popcorn, whole grain crackers such as Triscuits, Cheerios, dehydrated cheeses such as cheddar crisps and parmesan crisps. Figgy Pops are also pretty good. They have nice dried fruits, nuts, and seeds. I usually also have a fold-over sandwich with seed or nut butter.”
If she is feeling a little more prepared, Richard will pack a small cooler bag with cheese or Greek yogurt. She also favors fruit that comes in its own skin, such as mandarins or satsumas and bananas. Richard shares that snacks with protein will help will the feeling of fullness and reduce the “I’m hungry!” chants.
The Bottom Line
When asked what foods she absolutely avoids, Richard says, “There are not good foods and bad foods, but better choices. We think in terms of everyday choices and sometimes choices.”