Just a spoonful of sugar
When asked what nutrition concerns parents have about their preschool and school aged children, many have expressed concern about sugar intake. This concern was heightened last year when the American Heart Association and other major medical organizations announced that children should limit their sugar intake to 25 grams or less per day or about 6 teaspoons (4 grams are in a teaspoon). As a dietitian, my first thought was how can I educate families on these new recommendations and then as a parent I think about how am I going to achieve this. When I pondered both of these situations I actually became a little soured about the timing of this recommendation.
I do agree that the sugar intake in our country needs to be lowered and I am glad that there are some specific guidelines, however, I feel like the resources and supports for parents to be successful with this are not in place yet. In May of 2016, a plan for changing the food labels on packaged foods was announced to be rolled out in July of 2018. The new label was to include how much added sugars were in a product per serving, which may make it easier to follow new guidelines. However, this roll-out of the new label has been delayed. To learn more about the new food label follow this link: https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm#images
Another area that needs to be addressed is increasing education and guidance in areas outside of healthcare that seem to use sweets and treats too frequently as rewards or giveaways. Schools, businesses, churches, and other community organizations need to be educated on how sweet treats are not the only way a child’s accomplishments can be recognized. This education needs to include alternatives to sweet treats as a motivator such as stickers, pencils or other items.
The third thing that concerns me about the timing of recommendations is that many food companies will simply replace the sugars in products with artificial sweeteners. I would rather see more effort by food companies to provide products that use fruit pureesin their products as sweeteners or use less sugar without replacing it with artificial sweeteners. It should be clarified that fruits are natural sugars that include other important nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Substances such as honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, etc. are still considered added sugars.
So now that I have expressed my concern with the timing of these recommendations, I am going to share some ways to try and decrease the sugar in your child’s diet:
- Limit juices, fruit punch, soda, and sugar sweetened sports drinks. Only offer water or milk (or milk alternative) with meals.
- Purchase plain yogurt and sweeten with a small amount of sugar (which is likely less than added to an already sweetened yogurt) and fresh or frozen fruit.
- When making baked goods try decreasing the amount of sugar the recipe calls for by at least ¼ and research experimenting with using fruit puree, dates and unsweetened applesauce as a sweetener.
- Offer fresh or frozen fruits as a snack more frequently. My kids have devoured down on frozen strawberries because they taste like a popsicle.
- Try and reward your children for good behavior or good grades with things other than treats. Other ideas include a trip to the park, earning some extra screen time, stickers, or playing their favorite board game.
I hope this gives you some realistic ideas on how to start decreasing the sugar in your child’s diet, but also plants some seeds on how raising healthy kids is not just the job of the parent, but society.