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Sugar Overload: Do You Know How Much Sugar Your Kids Are REALLY Consuming?

Sugarly Sweets

Sugar, sugar everywhere.

Sugar and spice and everything nice. Isn’t that how the saying goes? We associate sugar with all that is good. We call people and actions sweet. We reward our children with sugary snacks when they do well. Who else remembers focusing on the lollipop prize for sitting still at the barber or being good at the doctor’s office? Sugar has been reinforced into our subconscious to mean good, well-deserved, and rewarding. We may even catch ourselves judging an anti-sweets person, trying to figure out what is wrong with them. For Americans, the use of sugar has become an extremely common and unhealthy habit.

For instance, a standard lunch box may contain a PB&J sandwich on whole wheat, a cheese stick, a juice box (100 percent juice, of course), and applesauce. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, not really. Even though these treats are not blaring indicators for sugar and do have some health benefits like protein and fiber – this lunch right here adds up to about 60 grams of sugar! That is 15 teaspoons! To give you context to the alarming amount, the American Heart Association recommends children should NOT consume more than six teaspoons of sugar in a day, and three times as much is being consumed in one innocent lunch. Shocking, to say the least.

We do the best we can, thinking we know exactly how much sugar we are giving our kids. Of course, sugary snacks, soda, candy – those are the ones we look out for, but what about items like ketchup, spaghetti sauce, and yogurt? Even your favorite organic fruit snacks have been loaded up with sugar. These sly sugar bombs are just as much to blame as the usual suspects.

More and more research is finding that consuming large amounts of sugar can cause serious health complications over time. Yes, we know that too much can make you gain weight, but do you realize what that does? When anyone – adult or child – becomes overweight, they are put at greater risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol – the three major players of heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five American children are considered obese. As a result of the childhood obesity epidemic, what was once considered adult conditions are more becoming more prevalent in the children population. Researchers say that the earlier these health problems arise, the earlier diseases arise. We’re seeing increased cases of children and teens developing type II diabetes more than ever.

What can you do to combat this sugar crisis?

Maybe right now you feel like all hope is lost, and there is nothing safe from the dreaded sugar. However, there are things you can do to ensure you stay on top of the amount of sugar your family is eating. By taking the time to do your research and read the nutrition labels on your food, you will be more informed about how to make better choices in planning meals and snacks.

Here are some helpful tips for making better food choices:

Learn to read the labels. If we’re being honest, most of us don’t know how much sugar our kids are consuming on a daily basis. What we assume are healthy choices, can at times be even worse than candy. Learning to read the nutrition labels and researching sugar content in fruits is going to make a huge difference in the way you prepare your precious little ones’ meals.

Grams and Teaspoons. When you check the nutrition label, you will notice that most of the nutrition facts use gram measurements. I don’t know about you, but grams mean nothing to me. If you are like me, it can be super helpful to remember that four grams roughly equals one teaspoon. And the recommended allotment per day for your child is no more than six teaspoons.

All sugar is equal. Don’t be deceived by the labels on the front of the box claiming all-natural and organic; they may use purer products but those benefits are negated if they are loaded with sugar. It’s important to remember that regardless of whether the food is sweetened with refined sugar, raw honey, or agave – they all add up to sugar in your system. The body does not discriminate.

Portion control. In a dream world, we would be able to avoid every ounce of sugar and never worry about it, or in my alternate dream world, sugar would be as beneficial as water, and the more you ingest, the healthier you are. Either way, it’s not reality and even though we will do all we can to filter our diets. It okay to have a little sugar occasionally. Besides, depriving your children will only make them want it more. Compromise by making the portion sizes smaller.

Use other methods to reward. So often we use sweets as a rewards system. “Yay! You got an A on your math test. Let’s get ice cream.” It’s time to retrain your child’s brain. Provide rewards in the form of stickers, activities, free time – anything that promotes a healthier lifestyle and gets them away from correlating sugar with rewards.

Avoid processed foods. Always do your best to buy as close to its original form as possible. Whole grains, fresh fruits, and veggies – yes, they have sugar, but it’s natural and not as overwhelming. Yogurts are one of those sneaky sugar sources where you think you are choosing a healthy option, but when you check the label, you will be shocked. To reduce the sugar intake, buy plain yogurt and add mix-ins yourself. It is always better to add sugar yourself, instead of buying something already sweetened. The more control you have over what your child eats, the better.

Get serious about your child’s sugar intake.

Just because you avoid candy and soda doesn’t mean you have successfully eliminated sugar in your child’s diet. Granted, it is a good start, but you must look beyond the front of the box and get down to the nutrition facts. Take the time to turn your food products over and identify those products that sneak in large amounts of sugar. Note that ones that use too much, and find healthier alternatives – or, better yet, make your own versions. It is always better to add in your own sugar. Fighting the bombardment of sugar for your kids today can help set the stage for a healthier future.

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Dr. Michael Anderson is the director of admissions and lead treating doctor for Georgia Integrated Health Center. He has been practicing for 22 years with extensive post-graduate training in the areas of neurology, clinical nutrition, functional endocrinology and internal disorders.

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