We're pretty healthy eaters at my house, but new recommendations from the American Heart Association forced me to take a second look at my cupboard, recently filled with some convenience foods destined for school lunches.
Instead of filling up on healthy foods, many kids' diets tend to center around foods that aren't good for their current or long-term health. Diets high in added sugars, such as honey, table sugar and fructose, during childhood are linked to obesity and elevated blood pressure in children and young adults, both risk factors for heart disease. In fact, according to the heart association, overweight children who keep eating and drinking products with added sugars are more likely to become insulin resistant and eventually develop type 2 diabetes.
“There has been a lack of clarity and consensus regarding how much added sugar is considered safe for children, so sugars remain a commonly added ingredient in foods and drinks, and overall consumption by children remains high – the typical American child consumes about triple the recommended amount of added sugars,” said Dr. Miriam Vos, the lead author and a nutrition scientist and associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, in a press release.
The heart association made three recommendations:
- Kids ages 2 to 18 should consume less than six teaspoons, or 25 grams, of added sugars per day.
- Children and teens should drink no more than one sugar-sweetened drink per week, including soda, sports drinks, sweet tea and fruit-flavored beverages.
- Kids under the ages of 2 should not eat or drink anything with added sugars, including sugar-sweetened drinks. It's not healthy for little ones to load up on sugary foods and drinks. They also are developing their tastes at this time. Limiting access to very sweet foods could set them up for a lifetime of healthier eating.
As you might already be aware, sugar is everywhere. Even in products marketed as "healthy." The half cup of strawberry Activia yogurt in my refrigerator, for instance, has a whopping 16 grams of sugar. A serving of Nutella has 21 grams. A serving of Craisins has 29 grams. Even foods that aren't sweet have added sugar. The Thomas' bagels my kids had for breakfast have 6 grams of sugar. A serving of Wishbone Italian dressing has 3 grams. Even the calcium supplements that my kids' pediatrician recommended have sugar - 6 grams per serving.
It all adds up to more sugar than any of us should eat.
Right now, it's difficult to know how much added sugar is in a particular. But, there's good news on that front. Starting in July 2018, food manufacturers will have to include the amount of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts Panel, according to the heart association.
“Until then, the best way to avoid added sugars in your child’s diet is to serve mostly foods that are high in nutrition, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meat, poultry and fish, and to limit foods with little nutritional value,” said Vos in the press release.
After all, there isn't much room for junk foods if kids are consuming the estimated calories required to maintain a healthy body weight. Kids need anywhere between 1,000 calories a day for a two-year-old to 2,400 calories for an active 14 to 18-year-old girl to 3,200 calories for an active 16 to 18-year-old boy, according to the heart association.
In addition to cutting back on sweetened drinks, the heart association also recommended avoiding items such as cereal bars, cookies, cakes and foods that are marketed to kids like sweet cereals. Those would include the Clif Kid Z Bar my younger daughter loves. They weigh in at 11 grams of sugar.
Sarah, Go Ask Mom's editor, is a mom of two.