Sugar. We know our kids shouldn’t have a lot of it. We know cookies, cake, and soda are loaded with it. If we only give our kids those high-sugar special foods in moderation, then we are moderating their sugar, right… Sadly, the answer is no! Many of the everyday foods we feed our kids are loaded with sugar, even the food that seem to be “healthy”. So what am I referring to? Well, nearly every single kid yogurt on the market has 3-4 teaspoons of sugar in a single serving. Think about that for a minute. Imagine taking the little teaspoon you measure with in recipes, and dipping it into the sugar bowl 4 times. Then imagine placing all that sugar on your kid’s yogurt before they take a bite. It is kind of staggering when you start to think about it. So what do you do about it? What other foods are hiding sugar? How do you know how much sugar is really in the foods you feed to your family? It is a lot to think about! Read on for answers to all these questions and more…
How Much Sugar is Hiding in Our Food?
That nutrition label on the back of food containers gives you the amount of sugar in grams. Great, what does that mean? Exactly how much is 11 grams, that doesn’t sound too bad? Well, every 4 grams of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar. Generally speaking less than 5 grams is good. However, it is important to keep in mind that fruits and some vegetables have sugar that are occurring in them naturally. Homemade, unsweetened applesauce has 11 grams of sugar. The foods that really raise the red flag are the ones that add sugar into their products and it seems like just about every product on our grocery shelves does.
So you also need to take a look at the list of ingredients in your food. Does it say sugar or corn syrup? Obviously, it has been added into the food! There are a few other names for sugar that you may not recognize so quickly though:
Fruit Juice Concentrate
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Dextrose, Fructose, Glucose, etc. (sugar names ending in “ose”)
One other thing to keep in mind when you are looking at the label is serving size. Sometimes these are really small and your kid may be eating two servings at one sitting, then doubling the sugar on the label.
Surprise Sugar Offenders
Three teaspoons of sugar (or more) in kid’s yogurt.
I remember when my older son was transitioning to table foods and I wanted to start him on yogurt. I stood in the the store looking for something organic, staying far from the popular brands with brightly colored yogurt. I brought home a yogurt with all natural ingredients and my baby gladly gobbled it up, it was very tasty. At the same time I was reading My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything. In that book I learned the 4 gram rule and immediately began checking the little bits of food I was giving my pure little 9 month old. I was SHOCKED that his healthy, expensive, organic, natural yogurt had 16 grams, or should I say, 4 whole teaspoons of sugar in it! What else had tons of sugar in it? Here are some foods I have surprisingly found to have a lot of sugar in them.
Jarred Mandarin Oranges (1/2 cup)– 18 grams or 4 and 1/2 tsp Instant Oatmeal– 13 grams or 3 tsp
Graham Crackers (2 sheets)– 8 grams or 2 tsp
Cereal Bars– up to 18 grams or 4 and 1/2 tsp
Applesauce (1/2 cup)– 14 grams or 3 and 1/2 tsp
Apple Juice (1 cup) — 28 grams or 7 tsp
Jelly (1 tsp)– 6 grams or 1 and 1/2 tsp
Spaghetti Sauce — 8 grams or 2 tsp
These numbers may vary by brand. This is by no means a complete list, I find surprising high sugar foods all the time!
What You Can Do About It
Read the label! I can’t stress this enough. Now you know what to look for, and although it is a teeny bit of a pain to read labels when you are trying new products, it is the best way to ensure you know what is going into your kids mouth. Remember, look at the amount of grams and the list of ingredients for added sugars.
You can also try making some of the foods you buy. For instance, I started buying plain yogurt and putting fresh fruit with a little bit of honey on top. I will admit that my son doesn’t eat quite as much and it was a little of a transition.
Another tip is to look for foods that are unsweetened, just be careful they haven’t added in a diet sugar substitute like saccharin or sucralose (splenda). It is pretty easy to find applesauce that is unsweetened. The ingredient list reads: pureed apples.
Lastly, remember all things in moderation. If you know you are going to give a favorite cereal bar that is high in sugar, try to keep the sugar intake low with other foods that day. Keep those high sugar favorites for once-in-a-while treats.
Daily Recommended Sugar Intake for Kids
The American Heart Association recommended that preschoolers not have more than 3 teaspoons of sugar a day and kids 5-7 should not have more than 4 teaspoons. Most kids are doubling or tripling these numbers in a day.
Although, there is a lot of research showing that sugar doesn’t effect behavior, hyperactivity, or attention, it does have strong links to heart disease, diabetes, and tooth decay!
Want to Know More
I used a few really great resources to fact check some of the information that I shared. Check out these links if you want more on sugar and healthy living: