Kids love sweets! And while a bit of sugar now and then probably won’t harm them, overindulging in sugar can adversely affect your child’s health over time. The worst sugars are often found in processed foods, sports drinks, soda, desserts, and fruit juice – all things most kids enjoy.
High sugar intake is linked to an increased risk of obesity and tooth decay, along with chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Filling up on sugary foods also leaves less room in small stomachs for nutritious foods needed for growth and development. Eating too much sugar can lead to nutrient deficiencies in kids, depleting vitamins from the body during digestion.
Not to mention, some kids experience bloating, gas, and diarrhea when they ingest too much sugar.
How Much Is Too Much?
In the United States, kids generally consume more sugar than they should, more than half of which comes in the form of sugary beverages. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends children ages 2 to 18 consume less than 25 grams or 6 teaspoons of sugar per day. That includes no more than 8 ounces of sugar-sweetened drinks per week as well. Children younger than two shouldn’t have any sugar at all.
So, What’s a Parent to Do?
Encouraging healthy eating habits while they’re young will help kids continue those patterns into adolescence and adulthood. When parents model good eating habits for their kids – choosing fruits and vegetables over sugary items – kids tend to mimic that behavior. It’s important to help kids develop a taste for natural unsweetened foods when they’re young. Choosing water and plain milk over juice is a good starting point.
Caretakers should also focus on the benefits of nutritious foods as opposed to the negative side effects of sugar in order to encourage kids to develop long-term, positive attitudes about healthy eating. Never use food, especially sweets, as a reward. This teaches kids that some foods (desserts) are better than others.
Read Nutrition Labels
The aisles at the supermarket are overloaded with sugary foods and drinks. Many of the foods marketed to children are high in sugar. While some sugar-filled items like sodas, candy, sweetened cereals, and fruit punch are obvious, other culprits may be harder to spot. Seemingly nutritious choices like granola bars, flavored yogurts, and pasta sauce are often hiding excess sugar.
Oftentimes, sugar is “hidden” on the label. It’s important parents are careful to read and understand nutrition labels on food packaging. Forms of added sugar include evaporated cane juice, raw sugar, crystal solids, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn sweetener, brown sugar, malt sugar, and molasses. Dextrose, honey dextrose, and sucrose are all also forms of sugar.
Switch to Stevia
Kids can still enjoy healthier versions of sweets. Opt for an all-natural sweetener like stevia to sweeten drinks, yogurt, cereal, and more without the sugar, artificial ingredients, and negative side effects. Bake healthier versions of your favorite desserts at home by swapping sugar for stevia in recipes.
Find a variety of delicious stevia-sweetened recipes here!
Tips to Encourage Healthy, Sugar-Free Eating
- Sit down for meals as a family.
- Allow kids to help out in the kitchen, preparing healthy foods.
- Never use food as a punishment or a reward.
- Teach kids how healthy foods build muscle and increase energy.
- Don’t keep sugary snacks in the house.
- Offer kids a variety of healthy food choices.