Nancy Dell: Realistic but healthy sugar intake for kids

How do you know how much added sugar is in a food?

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My children are 4 to 8 years old. I want them to enjoy some sweets but not too many. How much sugar is realistic but healthy? 

Abby, Internet

Sugar is just empty calories and is linked to almost any disease you can name from Alzheimers to heart disease and excess weight. And once you start eating it, it is hard to stop. Sugar is as addictive as cocaine. But sugar tastes good. So how much is considered reasonable?

First, don’t worry about the naturally occurring sugar in milk and fruit. It is the sugar added to food that is a problem. Recent studies show the average 4 to 8 year old eats 15 teaspoons of added sugar a day. That adds up to 50 pounds of added sugar a year. USDA guidelines recommend children have no more than half that amount or 7-8 teaspoons of added sugar a day. A whopping 41 percent of the added sugar children consume is from drinks like soda and lemonade.

So, start to introduce your kids to low sugar beverages like water that has been infused with melons, strawberries, pineapple, oranges, or cucumber. Walk into the lobby of a fancy hotel and people go crazy over the infused water they offer. In fact, have your kids help you make it. You can even infuse seltzer water if your children like bubbles.

How do you know how much added sugar is in a food? By July 2018, the FDA will require most labels to separate added sugar from the naturally occurring sugar. Until then, there are apps you can download on your phone to tell you. Also, you can read the ingredients. Words ending in “ose” mean sugar. Words like malt extract and rice syrup also mean sugar, so it can be hard to detect.

Besides beverages, there are other ways to easily reduce sugar for you kids. Give fruit for dessert. Think of snacks as mini meals, and give kids a half sandwich or small portions of leftovers like mac-and-cheese for snacks. You can flavor plain yogurt with your own fruit, 100% juice or all fruit jam. When they want chocolate, give them a few semi-sweet morsels, rather than the chocolate chip cookie. Semi-sweet morsels are not very sweet, but kids like them. You could even melt them to make a dip for fruit.

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