5 Tips to Reduce Your Child's Added Sugar Consumption - Easily and Permanently
Updated: Mar 18, 2019
Beverages and snacks/sweets account for 78% of the added sugars consumed in the US.
The average American’s consumption of added sugars has decreased from a peak in 2003-2004, but is still above the amount recommended in the 2015 - 2020 Dietary Guidelines. Beverages and snacks/sweets account for 78 percent of the added sugars consumed. Children consume even more added sugar than adults.
Learn the health risks associated with high added sugar consumption and how to identify foods high in added sugars
Make easy dietary changes to permanently reduce your child's added sugar consumption.
Many healthy foods and beverages contain natural sugars. Fruits contain the sugar fructose and milk contains the sugar lactose. Carbohydrates like potatoes and pasta break down to their sugar components during digestion to provide our bodies with energy.
However, the majority of sugars consumed by Americans are added sugars: those sugars added by food processing, during food preparation, or right before we eat.
Added sugar consumption by the average American has declined since it peaked in 2003-2004, but is still above the recommended amounts. Currently, 270 calories of added sugars are consumed by the average American each day, representing more than 13 percent of total daily calorie intake (1).
Children consume even more added sugar than adults.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that added sugars be limited to less than 10 percent of the calories consumed per day.
Eating Too Much Added Sugar Puts Your Child's Health at Risk
It is difficult to obtain the nutrients needed for good health and stay within an appropriate calorie range to prevent overweight and obesity when added sugars are more than 10 percent of the calories consumed each day. Foods and beverages high in added sugars crowd out the nutrient rich, lower calorie foods that could be enjoyed instead.
Children who consume higher amounts of added sugars have a tendency to gain more weight and have a higher risk of becoming obese. They also have higher risks for developing heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, increased cholesterol and triglyceride blood levels, and high blood pressure.
Even people who aren’t overweight have an increased risk of dying of heart disease if they have an added sugar-laden diet. No matter what a person’s weight, age, gender, or activity level is, the risk of dying of heart disease increases as added sugar consumption increases (2).
More Americans die of diabetes each year than die of breast cancer and AIDS combined. An alarming 9.3 percent of Americans have diabetes, and the majority have Type 2 (3). Added sugars, especially in sugar sweetened beverages, have been shown to contribute to the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, not just because of weight gain, but as an effect of consuming large amounts of rapidly absorbable sugars and specific issues related to how the body processes the sugar fructose (4).
Cholesterol is a waxy substance the body needs, but too much LDL, or “bad” cholesterol in the bloodstream can clog arteries, increasing the risk for a stroke and heart disease. HDL, or “good” cholesterol helps remove the LDL cholesterol from the arteries and carries it back to the liver to be broken down and removed from the body. A high level of triglycerides, or fat, in your blood also indicates you are at risk for heart disease and stroke. It has been shown that increased added sugars in the diet are associated with lower “good” cholesterol levels and higher triglyceride levels (5).
High blood pressure exists when the force exerted by blood during heart beats on artery walls stretches the tissues beyond a healthy limit and they become damaged. High blood pressure can cause damaged arteries to become stiff and narrow, weaken the heart muscle, increase the risks of heart failure and stroke, and cause kidney failure or scarring. Added sugars have been shown to be linked to high blood pressure, and reducing added sugar consumption may even be more important than reducing sodium consumption to lower the risk of high blood pressure (6,7).
How to Reduce the Amount of Added Sugars Your Child Eats
1. Read food labels and consider alternative foods containing less added sugars.
Food labels list ingredients in order of how much exists in the food by weight. You may be surprised to discover how much added sugar is in foods you do not consider sweet, such as crackers, spaghetti sauce, and salad dressing.
In addition to the ingredients list, look at the Nutrition Facts label. The current label lists natural and added sugars by weight together, but the new label lists added sugars separately by weight and percent daily value. (Manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual sales must switch to the new label by January 1, 2020; manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales have until January 1, 2021 to comply (8).) Some food companies have already started using the new Nutrition Facts Label.
2. Learn to recognize different names for sugar on ingredient lists.
Food ingredient labels can use at least 61 different names for sugar! A single ingredient list can contain multiple sugars such as dextrose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, maltose, trehalose (any word ending with “ose”), molasses, corn syrup, maltodextrin, dextran, panocha, diastatic malt, treacle, fruit juice concentrate, evaporated cane juice, Florida crystals, ethyl maltol, diatase, and barley malt.
Often foods presented as "healthy," like granola bars, are actually loaded with added sugars.
See my blog post Sugar By Any Other Name Is Still Sugar to learn more.
3. Don't let your child drink empty added sugar calories, or at least cut consumption down.
The number one source of added sugars in the American diet is sweetened beverages, and half of those beverages are soft drinks (9). These calories are called empty calories because they come from beverages containing little to no vitamins, minerals, fiber, or other nutrients.
Eliminate or reduce your child's consumption of soft drinks, enhanced waters, bottled teas, and energy drinks. One twelve-ounce can of Coke® has 39 grams of added sugar – that’s 140 calories from added sugar!
Offer your child water or milk. Provide nutrient rich fruit juices instead of added sugar-laden fruit drinks and smoothies. Save as many of your child's allotted added sugar calories each day for treats that will truly be enjoyed.
4. Let your child enjoy sweet “treats” and satisfy tastes with natural foods.
Snacks and sweets are the second largest source of added sugar, currently accounting for 31 percent of the average American’s daily added sugar consumption (9). Easy habit modifications can make a significant different in daily added sugar consumption from this food category.
Pick snacks for your child that have little or no added sugars, like fresh or canned fruits (packed in juice, not syrup), raisins, carrots, or unsweetened peanut butter with low sugar crackers. If your child's favorite flavored yogurt is high in added sugars, try mixing it with an unflavored, lower sugar yogurt, or add fruits to an unflavored yogurt instead.
Remember that sweet treats are meant to be unusual experiences, not nibbled on all day. Teach your child to savor them in moderation and honor them as “treats.” In about a month your child's taste acclimation to sugar will adapt to her new lower consumption, and sweet treats will be all the more enjoyable (10).
5. Don’t replace added sugars with low-calorie sweeteners.
It may be tempting to substitute artificial sweeteners when reducing added sugars, but the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, after review the latest scientific research, does not approve of that approach (11).
They concluded that there is insufficient evidence that using low-calorie sweeteners has long-term effects on weight loss or maintenance, and because the long-term effects of these sweeteners are unknown, they are not recommended (12).
Artificial sweeteners encourage a continued sugar cravings and may contribute to obesity (13).
You don't need a diet plan, menus, or recipes, to instantly reduce the amount of added sugars your child is consuming. Armed with clear information and a series of simple suggestions, you can make healthier decisions in the course of normal routine, choosing more appropriate foods and beverages for your child.
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th Edition, p. 54. December 2015. Available at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/
2. Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, Flanders W, Merritt R, Hu FB. Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults. JAMA Intern Med.2014;174(4):516-524. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24493081
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report: Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States, 2014. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2014. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pdfs/data/2014-report-estimates-of-diabetes-and-its-burden-in-the-united-states.pdf
4. Malik, V.S., F.B. Hu. (2012) Sweeteners and Risk of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes: The Role of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages. Curr. Diab. Rep. 2012 Jan 31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22289979
5. Welsh JA, Sharma A, Abramson JL, Vaccarino V, Gillespie C, Vos MB. Caloric Sweetener Consumption and Dyslipidemia Among US Adults. JAMA. 2010;303(15):1490-1497. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.449. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20407058
6. Brown, I.J., Jeremiah Stamler, Linda Van Horn, Claire E. Robertson, Queenie Chan, Alan R. Dyer, Chiang-Ching Huang, Beatriz L. Rodriguez, Liancheng Zhao, Martha L. Daviglus, Hirotsugu Ueshima, Paul Elliott, International Study of Macro/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure Research Group. (2011) Sugar-sweetened beverage, sugar intake of individuals, and their blood pressure: international study of macro/micronutrients and blood pressure. Hypertension. 2011;57(4):695-701. http://hyper.ahajournals.org/content/57/4/695.full.pdf
7. DiNicolantonio, J.J., Sean Lucan. (2014) Cardiac risk factors and prevention: Review: The wrong white crystals: not salt but sugar as aetiological in hypertension and cardiometabolic disease. Open Heart, 2014:1:1 http://openheart.bmj.com/content/1/1/e000167.full.pdf+html
8. Department of Health and Human Services Food and Drug Administration 21 CFR Part 101 Food Labeling: Revision of the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels; Serving Sizes of Foods That Can Reasonably Be Consumed at One Eating Occasion; Dual-Column Labeling; Updating, Modifying, and Establishing Certain Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed; Serving Size for Breath Mints; and Technical Amendments; Final Rules, 81 Fed. Reg. 103 (Friday, May 27, 2016). https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FDA-2012-N-1210-0875 (July 20, 2016)
9. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th Edition. p. 55. December 2015. Available at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/
10. Wise, P.M., L. Nattress, L.J. Flammer, G.K. Beauchamp (2015) Reduced dietary intake of simple sugars alters perceived sweet taste intensity but not perceived pleasantness. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 103(1):50-60
11. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee. (February 2015) Advisory Report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Agriculture. P. 9. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/PDFs/Scientific-Report-of-the-2015-Dietary-Guidelines-Advisory-Committee.pdf
12. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee. (February 2015) Advisory Report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Agriculture. Part D, Ch. 6, p. 25, [972-977]. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/PDFs/Scientific-Report-of-the-2015-Dietary-Guidelines-Advisory-Committee.pdf
13. Yang, Q. Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings: Neuroscience 2010. Yale J Biol Med. 2010;83:101–8.