Who doesn’t love sugar? It’s one of the most delicious ingredients in the food world… but unfortunately, it is also is one of the unhealthiest! Our beloved sweetener is void of any nutritional quality and worst of all, is linked to diabetes, depressed immune systems and obesity. According to Pediatrician, Dr. Kavey, “The reason that we think of it as a problem is because of the big rise in obesity in childhood, and that rise has occurred over the same time period that there’s been a major increase in the amount of simple sugar that children consume.”
The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 5% of total calories from sugar and that children should have no more than 3 teaspoons a day and teens should consume no more than 5-8 teaspoons daily. Considering that one can of soda contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar and one cup of children’s sweetened cereal has roughly 5 teaspoons of sugar, it’s pretty safe to say that most families are exceeding the recommended daily sugar intake!
Knowing that an excess of sugar is not good for us, what can parents do? Here are four steps to consume less of the sweet stuff:
- Be sure to read labels! You wouldn’t think that a company is putting sugar in your marinara sauce, peanut butter, crackers or soup, but they are. They are also doing in it obscure ways. You are looking out for “sugar” on labels and food companies are sneaking them in with murky words like: barley malt, cane juice crystals, carob syrup, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, dextran, dextrose, diatase, diastatic malt, ethyl maltol, fructose, fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, glucose solids, high fructose corn syrup, lactose, malt syrup, maltodextrin, maltose, mannitol, refiner’s syrup, sorbitol, sorghum syrup, sucrose. Basically, anything ending with, “-ose” is a sugar. Know the sugar lingo! One of my golden rules with food products is that if I do not know what the ingredient is, I pass on the product!
- Know that “healthy”sugars (honey, molasses, maple syrup & agave) are still sugars! They all have added nutrients and would be the preferred sweetener choice. Honey contains minerals, amino acids and B Vitamins. Molasses contains iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Maple syrup contains zinc, manganese and potassium. Agave contains small amounts of calcium, potassium and magnesium. Even though they are not stripped down of all their nutrients, these sweeteners basically break down in the body the same way that sugar does. They may have some added nutrients, but once digested they are basically seen as sugar by the body.
- Modify family-favorite recipes! An easy way to omit or reduce sugar consumption is by modifying recipes. When possible, omit sugar in savory dishes. When it comes to baking, try reducing the sugar by tablespoons or ¼ cup. You can compensate the lack of sugar by adding another dash of cinnamon or your favorite spice. Baked goods are not as adaptable as savory dishes, so some trial and error may be involved.
- Start a food journal! I know that families barely have time to sit down for breakfast, let alone write in a food journal, but the best way to reduce sugar is to be aware of the sugar being eaten on a daily basis. Once you are conscious of how much is being consumed, you may realize that the family’s daily intake is far more than you realized. A quick notation of the food & sugar content can be a great tool to see how quickly and frequently you are consuming sugar.