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September 20, 2018

Oh Sugar....

In the current political climate, the term “flip-flop” is thrown around a lot.  Whereas the term is often well deserved by our nation’s political leaders, the field of nutrition is deserving as well.  I am sure most Americans would agree that it is difficult to determine what is truly “healthy” to eat given various news headlines citing peer-reviewed nutrition students.  For example, saturated fat has historically been among the worst foods for the heart and now nutrition scientists are saying it might be OK.  This not only makes it difficult for public health officials to provide sound dietary guidance, but it also leads to confusion for me, a nutrition scientist, as I navigate the grocery store shopping for my family.  All of this said, there is one aspect of the diet that all nutrition scientists can agree on - added sugar is BAD!

To be clear, I am not referencing the sugar found naturally in bananas, peas or milk, but instead, the sugar added to soda, ice cream, and baked goods, among others.   Because added sugars are often found in foods that are generally not nutrient dense, they add calories to the diet without giving us any real nutrition.  Thus, a diet high in added sugars is usually one that is low in quality and is associated with increased risk for developing obesity, heart disease, obesity-related cancers and cavities.  While Americans of all ages should limit their sugar intake, children are especially at risk for consuming too much sugar.  With relatively low energy needs as compared to adults, children do not have a lot of room in their diet for added sugar.  While this likely makes sense to all parents, until recently, there have not been any guidelines as to how much sugar is too much.

In August, the American Heart Association (AHA) published guidelines which suggest that children should consume no more than 25g of sugar per day, which is equivalent to 6.25 teaspoons of added sugar per day.  That may sound like quite a bit of sugar, but consider the serving sizes and amount of sugar in the foods and drinks below:

Food Serving Size Added Sugar (grams)
Honey Nut Cheerios ¾ cup (28g) 9g (2.25 tsp)
Capri Sun 6.75 oz 18g (4.5 tsp)
Earth’s Best Letter of the Day Cookies 9 cookies (20 g) 7g (1.75 tsp)
Danimals Strawberry Yogurt 4oz 13g (3.25 tsp)
Annie’s Organic Fruit Snacks 1 pouch 10g (2.5 tsp)

While humans are born with an innate preference for sweetness, the best thing you can do for your infant or toddler (children <2 years of age) is to avoid sweetened foods all together according to the AHA findings.  Before they are old enough to know better, introduce unsweetened cereals and yogurt as opposed to sweetened brands, avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and baked goods, and let them experience sugar in its naturally occurring form - via fruit, vegetables and milk.  Doing so will help your child to appreciate sweets when they are provided, but not to expect that all foods (s)he eats or drinks to be sweet.

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