You’d be hard pressed to find a parent who thinks kids don’t eat too much sugar. After all, it’s everywhere, in everything, practically in the air we breathe.
You already know there’s way too much sugar in a bowl of cereal. But, quick: How much sugar is in a cup of kids’ flavored yogurt?
Knowing the answer would put you in about 10 percent of the population, which would mean you’re as rare as someone who’s left handed.
The point is, most of us suck at figuring out how much sugar is in food — especially certain foods perceived as healthy. A study of 305 German families found that 90 percent of parents greatly underestimated (by as much as 60 percent) the amount of sugar in foods with a “health halo” like yogurt or juice, which have deceptive amounts of sugar.
That’s a problem, because a 12-ounce glass of OJ has 33 grams of sugar in it, or about 12 teaspoons, which exceeds the entire limit for a child for the day. Flavored yogurts marketed to kids often have as much as 22 grams of sugar in one container. Children should be getting no more than 25 grams of sugar a day, or less than 10 percent of their daily calories consumed. That’s about six teaspoons of sugar a day.
The average kid gets more like 27 percent of their daily calories from sugar, and the average adult only gets about 15 percent from sugar. In other words, yes, most children eat more sugar in a day than adults do or should, to the tune of about a Snickers a day. (Which does not keep the doctor away, unless the doctor gives out awards for not eating sugar.)
The parents who underestimated the amount of sugar in those foods also happened to have the children with the highest BMIs. And that’s a problem, because thanks at least in some part to sugar, 18 percent of children of elementary school age are now obese. And not just obese, but as a result, also at risk for Type 2 diabetes — which used to never happen in kids, and now happens in kids as young as 10 — plus heart disease, cavities and cancer. Too much sugar can also be the culprit behind allergies and asthma, and it can wreak havoc on the immune system.
So what is to be done? Obviously, what is to be done is to wrestle that bag of Skittles from your child’s death grip right now. But also the yogurt. And the orange juice. Trouble is, how do you do that without someone calling CPS or getting a degree in nutrition? You don’t really need to be all that harsh, or savvy, to make a few changes. What’s needed here is willpower and consistency. Let us help.
What counts as sugar?
For the purposes of your child’s health, you only really need to worry about added sugar. That’s what it sounds like, meaning it’s sugar that is not naturally occurring in the food. So you can leave out fruit when you’re sweating over what’s too much. Almost no one eats too much of that, and if your kid did, you’d know, because they would get mad diarrhea.
Added sugars are on the label under names such as dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey and several more.
So now I have to read labels?
You don’t. You could actually just stop buying any and all packaged or prepared snacks and sweets, like cookies, cakes, cereals, ice cream, energy drinks, soda, chips, fruit juice and the like. You could bake your own lower-sugar versions of some of this stuff.
But if you’re not willing or able to do that, yes. Read labels. And when you do, do this: Every 4 grams of sugar is 1 teaspoon. Again, you’re looking to limit the intake to 6 teaspoons a day, or about 25 grams. If two chocolate chip cookies amounts to 10 grams of sugar, that’s 2.5 teaspoons, or a over a third of the daily amount. Two friggin’ cookies, guy. So if they have two cookies, that better be all the cookies the whole day.
But it’s not like I give my kids donuts all day, or even every day.
That’s great, since a single donut has 11 grams of sugar. But what you are doing is not realizing that if they have a bowl of say, Froot Loops, that’s already 12 grams of sugar, or half the daily amount. Most kids will have a second bowl. Now what?
As noted, kids get a big sugar rush first thing in the morning from a big sugary bowl of cereal. If you’re adding orange juice, game over. Want to try oatmeal instead? Then go with the no-frills stuff, like Quaker Oats (1 gram) and then only add actual fruit and cinnamon, instead of the stuff with cinnamon and sugar added for you (7 grams). Granola bars (12 grams) and cereal bars (9 grams) are not your friend, mate.
Or you could try just cutting portions in half.
Pretty much every packaged thing you’d think to give a kid is bad news. Dried fruit sounds like a great substitute, only it isn’t (16 grams). Fruit gummies (11 grams)? Try again, pal. You’re going to have to get those kids into real, actual fruit. Also, stick with cheese, nuts or nut butters that don’t have sugar added. Or popcorn. More? Try the sort of stuff a nutritionist would give their own kid.
Even goldfish crackers have some sugar added (1 gram) and other savory snacks like popcorn and chips, proving nothing is sacred. But pick your poison here. The idea is not to ban outright, but heavily restrict, so if it’s goldfish or a bag of fruit gummies, pick the goldfish. Condiments need to be limited to as small a dipping amount as possible, since one serving has 4 grams of sugar. One serving is one tablespoon, by the way. Most people use two or three servings in one setting. If you are following this, you realize that is nearly half the daily limit.
If there’s a smoking gun here, it’s really more of a smoking glass. A glass of juice can have as many as 20 to 30 grams of sugar in it. Again, that’s nearly the entire day’s recommended limit (or more) for a kid. So if you could only make yourself do one thing to avoid the dooming fate of consuming too much sugar, just cut out the juice.
No matter how much you want to believe juice is okay, you have accept that you have been living one big juiced-up lie. So march yourself into the bathroom right now, look into the mirror and tell yourself: Juice is not healthy! Seriously. It is not healthy. If you want science from an actual doctor, you can learn all about why in this article titled “Seriously, Juice Is Not Healthy.”
But know this: Drinking all that juice is why kids get more daily sugar than adults (unless those adults are mainlining soda). Children get about 10 ounces of the stuff a day. It’s more concentrated sugar and calories but no fiber, so it’s the opposite of eating the fruit it comes from.
IT’S. THE. OPPOSITE.
Like kids smoking cigarettes surely leads to them doing meth or whatever, drinking juice leads to soda as a “gateway beverage.” Aren’t there vitamins in that juice? Sure there are, but screw these vitamins. Juice is death in a glass — with vitamins.
Yes, you can find some juices with a lot less sugar. Some go as low as around 9 grams of sugar for the box. Yes, you can dilute it, which is not a bad solution to wean them off it. But your kid is still largely drinking her sugar. And this is not what you want. Plus, the more kids get jacked up on that juice, the more they think water tastes like dog crap. And in comparison to juice, it does. That is why juice is evil.
Even if you eliminate juice at home, and change it to water, they will still get the juice somewhere. The pusher is the school, their friends who have juice, their friend’s parents, and literally everyone who encounters a child. So they will still get it. Just not from you. You’re not an all-seeing God here, and this is all the more reason to control your own terrain.
Limit sweets to the weekends
Some nutritionists recommend doing a 5:2 approach to sweets and only giving it out on the weekends. It’s not only something kids can look forward to, but it makes the argument easier the rest of the week. You can always make exceptions for birthdays or special occasions. And again, they are getting it anyway at school and lying to you about it. Promise.
Won’t my kids hate me?
Absolutely. But trial runs of these things say you can slowly wean them off the stuff so that they don’t go crazy all at once. This 30-day plan for breaking their addiction has parents swapping out bad stuff for better stuff slowly over time.
And it doesn’t have to be punitive: You don’t have to announce, Hey kids, instead of waffles this morning we’ll be having a plate of alfalfa sprouts covered in flax seed! You can move toward scrambled eggs and cheese, or use plain yogurt you sweeten with actual fruit. Add a dash of brown sugar to plain oatmeal, and so on. Sub processed snacks out for actual fruit, cheese and crackers. Reduce portion sizes.
You can also start rewarding your children with anything but sweets when they do a good job. A small toy, a trip somewhere, extra screen time, a single blueberry.
What’s the payoff?
A recent study of reducing sugar in obese kids saw drastic results in as little as 10 days in every marker that mattered, from lowering cholesterol, blood pressure and bad fats, to improving their blood sugar levels.
Other trial runs suggest that kids may calm down a little, and start going to bed earlier. It’s probably just because they are too bored to stay up at night without sugar. They don’t have to know you’ve actually saved and possibly extended their boring lives.