Tips to Decrease Added Sugars in Children’s Diets

By: Jodi Hoppensteadt MS, RDN, LDN

Why Track Added Sugar?

It’s Kids Eat Right Month this August, and below is the skinny on added sugar. It can be tough to track and understand labels and how much is added into our daily food products. The easiest method is for families to focus on foods and beverages that do not contain added sugars.

Too much sugar in a child’s diet can lead to adverse health conditions, including tooth decay, obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol, type two diabetes, and high blood pressure. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children under two years of age should avoid added sugars. Children two years and older should limit their daily intake of added sugars to less than 25g (approximately six teaspoons) each day.

How to Identify Added Sugar on Food Labels

There are two ways to read a food label. One way is to check the Nutrition Facts Panel and look for the line titled: Includes XXg Added Sugars. Focus on foods that contain less than 5% of the Daily Value for added sugars.

The second way to read a label for added sugars is to read the ingredient labels. Added sugars come in many forms and go by many names, including sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, fructose, dextrose, honey, molasses, malt, turbinado, and any ingredients ending in -ose.

Tips to Reduce Added Sugars

The following suggestions are other tips on how to avoid added sugars in your child’s diet:

  • Limit foods containing added sugars for children over two years of age and avoid beverages with added sugars for children two and under.
  • In place of foods with added sugars, try offering foods with natural sugar, which is the sugar naturally found in foods such as fructose found in fruits or lactose found in milk and milk products.
  • Limit 100% fruit juice for children and it is a good practice to dilute with water. Do not give fruit juice to children under the age of one.
    • 1-3 years of age up to 4 ounces daily.
    • 4-6 years of age up to 6 ounces daily.
    • 7-14 years of age up to 8 ounces daily.
  • Read labels for added sugars in all packaged and/or processed foods and drinks, including crackers, flavored milk (chocolate or strawberry), condiments, cookies, bread/baked goods, and cereals.

Added Sugar Replacements/Substitutes Tips

Here are some food replacements/substitutes to reduce added sugars in specific foods:

  • Serve water or milk in place of soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened coffees, or teas. Try naturally flavored water at home by adding berries, lemon, lime, cucumber slices, or mint.
  • When looking for something sweet, try fresh fruits, frozen fruits, dried fruits, or canned fruits. Canned fruits should be canned in water or natural fruit juice and drained and rinsed. Read food labels for added sugars in both canned and dried fruits.
  • Many cold cereals are high in sugar. Look for low sugar cereals such as Chex (Corn or Rice), Cheerios (unflavored), or Kix (unflavored).
  • Applesauce often has added sugar but unsweetened applesauce is available.
  • Offer only 100% real juice, fresh-squeezed juice, or homemade juice with no sugar added.
  • Cookies/cupcakes/baked goods are often high in added sugars but can be homemade with less sugar by substituting part of the sugar with applesauce or reducing the amount of sugar in a recipe by ¼ to ½ of the amount.
  • Popsicles and ice cream can be replaced with 100% real fruit popsicles or dark chocolate-covered frozen bananas. Popsicles can also be made at home using fresh fruit, pureeing, and freezing in popsicle molds.
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can be made with less added sugars by replacing the jam or jelly with fresh fruit such as sliced bananas, apples, or strawberries, or low sugar jelly jams are available. No sugar-added peanut butter is also available.
  • Syrup for pancakes and waffles can be replaced with fresh fruit, or frozen blueberries can be heated and pureed to make a “fresh fruit syrup”.
  • Read labels for condiments and chose lower sugar varieties or reduce the amount used.
  • Granola bars/cereal bars/yogurts look for low added sugar on the nutrition facts panel or ingredient label. There are also many recipes for breakfast cookies online that are low-sugar and easy to make.
Photo by Julia Zolotova on Pexels.com

Notes on Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners (nonnutritive sweeteners) such as Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Neotame, Saccharin, Sucralose are found in many food and beverages. The AAP recommends that the amount of artificial sweetener be listed on the nutrition facts label to better help parents and researchers understand how much children are consuming and the possible health effects. There is still a lot to learn about the impact of nonnutritive sweeteners on children’s health. Children under the age of 2 should not be consuming artificial sweeteners.

Notes on Milk and Supplemental Diets

There is no need to limit milk as it contains natural sugars, not added sugars, and provides necessary nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D. Supplemental nutritional beverages such as Pediasure, Boost, and Carnation Breakfast Essentials should not be limited when used to supplement diets to provide additional calories or nutrients or when recommended by a doctor and dietitian. Lower added sugar supplemental nutritional beverages can be purchased from companies such as Kate Farms or Else. Ask your doctor or dietitian if a lower added sugar formula is right for your child.

Photo by Cats Coming on Pexels.com

Comprehensive Pediatric Nutrition Services

If you have any questions or any concerns about your child’s nutrition visit our nutrition therapy page or contact us at info@eastersealsdfvr.org. Our nutrition team is comprised of RDN’s (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) who have years of specialty experience working in pediatric nutrition and are ready to help!

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