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The Skinny on Sugar

Added sugars are everywhere.  White sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, cane sugar, honey, agave… the list could go on.  There are so many types of sweeteners out there, how do you know which ones to eat and how much your growing little sprout needs?!

How Much Sugar Should My Child Get?

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines (here) recommend that no more than 10% of our daily calories come from added sugars, but how on earth do we apply that?  Basically, a typical young child, think younger than 12, should get no more than 3-4 teaspoons (12-16 grams) of added sugar daily as part of a healthy diet.  If you’ve got a teenager in the house, you’re looking at 5-8 teaspoons (20-32 grams) per day.

What’s The Difference Between Added And Natural Sugar?

The difference is that natural sugars are exactly what their label implies, NATURAL.  Now, don’t let food companies fool you, there are really just 2 types of naturally occurring sugars in food – those found in fruit (fructose) and those found in dairy (lactose).  I know some of you are thinking, what about honey? It’s made by bees, how much more natural can it get? And you are right, honey is natural but it does not naturally show up in foods.  I am yet to bite into an apple and have honey ooze out, but if you do, let me know!  Honey (and agave) is an added sugar, as in it is added to foods to improve the taste.  Naturally occurring in nature? Absolutely! Naturally occurring in your honey nut cheerios? Definitely not!

Another important distinction is that natural sugars are part of foods that contain other important nutrients like vitamin D and calcium in milk, or fiber and vitamin C in an orange.  These other components are part of a healthy diet and also affect how the sugar is digested…but that’s another story for another post.  Added sugars are typically isolated sweeteners used to improve the flavor of the food without adding any significant nutritional value.

How Do I Know If A Food Has Added Sugar?

As a mom (and a Registered Dietitian) I am most likely not going to add up grams of sugar in my son’s (we’ll call him G) diet.  I don’t have time for that, and, when half his food ends up stuck to his clothes, in his hair, and on the floor, it probably wouldn’t be very accurate anyway.  In addition, our food labels don’t differentiate between natural sugars (like those found in fruit and dairy) and added sugars (basically everything else) so who really knows how much additional sugar was used in the Sweeteners_2-p001preparation.  My best advice for limiting sugar intake in kids is to check the ingredients list (typically located below the nutrition facts label).  There are obvious foods with added sugars, cakes, cookies, ice cream… you get my drift…, but you might be surprised how much sugar can be found in cereals, granola bars, breads, yogurt, etc.  Added sugars come in a variety of names and disguises.  Here are some common ones to look for (in a handy-dandy printable you can put in your wallet and take to the store with you!).

Is One Type Of Sweetener Better Than Another?

It seems like there is a new article every week about how one type of sweetener is better than another for you or your little one.  So here’s the skinny (in a nutshell).  All of the most common sugars have similar calories and similar carbohydrate content per teaspoon.  MEANING – they’re all pretty darn close when it comes to adding them to your little one’s diet.

I know, I know, some of you are thinking about the varying glycemic indexes, digestion routes, or that some are more natural than others (remember, they may be natural but they’re still an added sugar).  Those are questions for another post (but if you’re interested in more info let me know so we can discuss it sooner rather than later).  In the meantime, all sweeteners should be enjoyed in moderation to ensure your little one (or teenager) is getting their calories from foods with other nutritional benefits (like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fatty acids…you get the picture).  I am certainly NOT suggesting that kids should never have sugar, nor do I want you to believe that my G never has sugar (or myself for that matter).  Those are individual decisions for yourselves as parents and your healthcare providers.  I AM suggesting you increase your awareness of where sugar comes from in your child’s diet and practice moderation to encourage a healthy happy little sprout!

*The information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.  This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.  Please consult your healthcare provider before making any diet or treatment decisions.
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