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Sugar and Children’s Health
Sugar is probably my least favorite of the food evils. It causes behavioral issues, rots our children’s teeth and seems to be an addiction for them, but there are worse things happening beneath the surface that makes it evil. We now know that in addition to diabetes, sugar causes cardiovascular risk too. Here is a scary statistic: around 25% of children who are obese show signs of impaired glucose tolerance. No thank you! We have to take control of our children’s diets to help ensure they have an amazing lifetime free from many of the awful illnesses that have become common today.
Recommended Sugar Intake for Kids
Sugar is in most everything that isn’t a whole food. It is even added to foods that you wouldn’t suspect. For example, a half cup of Preggo spaghetti sauce has 10 total grams of sugar and 4 added grams of sugar. The added sugar alone is ⅙ of the daily intake that is recommended for children according to the American Heart Association. In fact, the AHA claims that children 2-18 should have a daily sugar intake of fewer than 25 grams of sugar per day. Of course a “no sugar” diet is the most ideal, but realistically there are some ways you can improve your children’s health today. I recommend doing these in phases as cutting it out suddenly and entirely will be more difficult to maintain. This is a lifestyle change and it will be a journey, but you can thank me years from now when your kids are in their 40s and not on any medications!
Ways to Cut Kids Daily Sugar Intake
Cut out sugary drinks ~ This should come as no surprise, but it is not practiced by many moms. My kids love chocolate milk, sports drinks, and juices. I recommend phasing these out and replacing them with fruit infused water. Not only will your children get the daily water intake that they should, but there are vital nutrients and vitamins in the fruits and herbs that you add to their water. Some of our favorite fruit infused waters are watermelon, cucumber, and mint, orange and blueberry, and my favorite pear, ginger, cinnamon, and vanilla. Here are some of my picks to help make drinking water something they look forward to.
Educate them, then let them decide ~ In our home, we talk openly about the dangers of a high sugar diet. We want our children to be educated about food and nutrition and how sugar affects their bodies. Did you know that too much sugar blocks the good nutrients from reaching your cells? No wonder cancer is so prevalent today. With all of the sugar we eat, our cells are starving and mutating. I recommend this video for children because Carmen demonstrates how sugar affects your body.
When my children ask for a sugary snack, I will ask them, “if you only get one sweet treat for the day, is this the one you want?” Their answer is a typical “no”, then they move on to something healthier and wait for something yummier to pique their interest. By giving them the decision to make, you are developing future adults that make good decisions and have willpower. It’s a win now and a win later! Here are some great reads to help you on the education journey.
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Avoid fat-free or diet foods~ At one time it was believed that fat made you fat and so came the rise of low-fat or fat-free foods to the rescue. Those foods still have a lot of sugar since sugar doesn’t add to the fat content. Foods low in fat are often high in refined sugars. Opt for the full-fat option and control your portions.
You should also avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin that are found in many diet foods, as they are not a part of a healthy diet. The best foods are the ones that have not been tampered with by scientists. Eat as many whole foods as you can, but a good rule of thumb is 80/20 with 80% of your diet being whole and 20% being dirty.
Teach them to read labels ~ When my children are old enough to read and comprehend usually around 8 years old, we teach them how to read food labels. Children should have no more than 25 grams of sugar per day so understanding how they could enjoy sweets and still stay within the limits was fascinating to them! When my children began to see how much sugar is in foods, they started making better decisions on their own. For example, they assumed that a Pillsbury cinnamon roll had more sugar than a cup of chocolate pudding. They enjoy cinnamon rolls more than they enjoy pudding, so they were happy to learn that the two foods equally contain about 18 gram of sugar. Eating pudding is no longer their first pick for a sweet treat given it is sugar packed and not as rewarding to their sweet tooth. They know now that if they have a cinnamon roll, that they have met their sugar limit for the day. This also keeps them from begging for more sweets! Education is the best preventative medicine. Speaking of reading….check out this post for ideas on getting your kids to read more.
Commit to baking one treat per week ~ We all know that homemade is healthier than pre-made or processed treats. Pre-made baked goods in the cookie aisle are filled with preservatives with little to no nutritional value. One step up health wise would be to get something from the bakery section of a store, but then you can’t control the ingredients or sugar content. That is why I recommend baking at home. Not only is it healthier, but it can provide you with quality time with your family if sweets are made together. My kids have come to love “family baking time”.
You can easily switch out your white flour for rice, coconut, or tapioca flour. Other great switches are to opt for dark chocolate over milk and fresh fruit over canned. Speaking of canned fruit, I was appalled to find out that canned mangos have as much sugar as a candy bar! Gross!
Here are some great recipe books and products to help you get this activity into your weekly family routine. Check out the cookbook Deceptively Delicious to get some veggies snuck into your baked goods. Your kids will never know!
Switch to whole grains~ Carbs are not bad, they are necessary unless they are white. Did you know that white carbs start out as good carbs before all of the nutrition is sucked out and you are left with a bleached starch aka sugars? Here is a solution: If white carbs are not in your house, you won’t eat them, unless you let your kids buy school lunch. That is harder to control, and I recommend packing.
In order to cut out added sugars to your kid’s diets, you will need to cut out white bread, white potatoes, and standard spaghetti/macaroni products to name a few of the big ones. Substitute potatoes for sweet potatoes, homestyle waffles for quinoa waffles, pasta for quinoa pasta, and white bread for whole grain, not whole wheat bread. These whole food products will give them the energy boost they need while avoiding the sugar crash that white products cause. The whole grain version also keeps you fuller longer so your kids may be less likely to binge on snacks in between meals, although I am a fan of snacking.
Cut the sugar recipe in half ~ Experiment! Try shaving a little sugar out of the recipe and see how you like it. Add applesauce or bananas to a recipe to keep it sweetened with natural sugars. Another substitute that I have used is honey. Although honey is high in sugar there are other nutrition benefits that make it a healthier baking option. Check out this recipe:
Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
You will need:
2 cups of Peanut butter
⅔ cup of honey
1 tsp of baking soda
1 cup of dark chocolate chips
~Mix all ingredients together with a hand mixer until the mixture is smooth
~Add in chocolate chips
~Spread the mixture in a 9×13 baking dish
~Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes