New guidelines for sugar consumption in children and teenagers from the American Heart Association might give many parents a whole new kind of sugar shock.
“Children and teens should consume less than six teaspoons of ‘added sugars’ a day and drink no more than eight ounces of sugary beverages a week,” said a recent article from the American Heart Association.
Added sugars are just what they sound like, any sugar you add to your regular diet, like jam on your toast or sugar in your coffee. In addition, many processed foods that come ready to eat contain added sugars of which you may not be aware.
Too much sugar can lead to tooth decay, excess weight gain, and pave the path to a number of adult health problems, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease, said Dr. Jeffrey Lamont, a Marshfield Clinic pediatrician.
Sugar: A history lesson
“During World War II, sugar was strictly rationed. In the wake of World War II, one sign we were better off was the relative abundance of sugar,” Lamont said. “If you look at old-time radio and TV programs, advertising for sugar smacks and sugar pops, the attitude was ‘sugar, sugar, sugar.’”
Portion sizes for sugary treats also have exploded, Lamont said. Cola drinks used to come in eight-ounce bottles, without the option of today’s 20-ounce goliaths.
Curbing sugar consumption starts early
Patience, persistence and willingness to adjust our own tastes could go a long way in helping our children reduce their sugar intake, Lamont said.
“Tastes are acquired over time. What we need to do as parents is change our own appreciation for what tastes ‘right,’ using less added salt and sugar, which can help our children do the same,” Lamont said. He points out that children begin their lives consuming only what their parents choose for them, and that’s when eating habits begin to form.
For parents of young children, Lamont offers these tips:
- Don’t season your child’s food to your liking. This will accustom the child to like more salt or sugar added to foods.
- Allow your child sugary treats once in a while, not daily.
- Don’t carry sugary snacks like sweetened cereal around in your purse or pocket to feed your kids. Continuous snacking teaches kids that eating is entertainment, not nourishment.
- Don’t establish a routine where you use snacks to calm your child.
- Vegetables, fruits and grains make up the bulk of a healthy diet.
- Be conscious of portion sizes, particularly where sugary snacks are concerned.
Finally, Dr. Lamont stressed that monitoring sugar intake is just one aspect of a healthy diet. A good way to use both salt and sugar, he said, is to add them sparingly to enhance the taste of healthy foods.