Sugar and Kids: How to Cut Down on How Much They Eat

Smart ways to cut down your family's sugar intake

Boy eating cupcake
Limiting sweets to special occasions is a good idea when trying to cut down the amount of sugar kids eat. Noel Kleinman/Getty Images

Do you know how much sugar you and your children are consuming every day? Increasingly, studies have linked sugar intake to a myriad of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and even cancer.

Given these questions regarding sugar, it seems wise to keep tabs on how much sugar our kids are consuming at home and at school. Here are some smart ways you can curb the amount of sugar your child eats and drinks daily:

  1. Do not keep junk food in the house. If you buy soda, juice, and sugary snacks regularly and keep them in the house, they will get eaten. Instead, stock up on plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables as part of your daily healthy eating habits routine.
  2. Read labels. Just one 16-ounce bottle of an iced tea drink can contain more than 10 teaspoons of sugar, and just a half-cup of applesauce can have more than 6 tablespoons, according to Consumer Reports. One important way to keep tabs on how much sugar your family consumes is by reading labels carefully. Be sure to look at how much sugar is in each serving size to get an accurate picture of how much sugar you are ingesting.
  3. Be aware of hidden sources of sugar. Of course you can expect foods such as candy and soda to be chock full of sugar. But did you know that foods you wouldn’t expect to have sugar such as pasta sauces and crackers can also contribute to you daily sugar intake? When reading labels, read everything, not just foods you think contain sugar.
  1. Remember that sugar isn't just sugar. Look for words such as “syrup” and words ending in “ose” such as “fructose” and “sucrose.” Also, sweeteners such as agave and honey are still sugar, though some researchers believe that they are not as harmful as refined sugar. (The research is divide on this.)
  1. Set an example with actions, not just with words. Are you plopping down at the dinner table with some soda while telling your child he has to drink milk? Do you sneak cookies and ice cream and then lament about how you broke your diet? Your kids are watching and listening, even when you may not think they are. If you want them to eat healthy foods and cut down on sugar, one of the most important things you can do is set a good example for your children to follow.
  2. Get their taste buds used to less sugar. You know when you eat sweet treats and then have something that isn’t sweetened, the less sweet foods taste much more bland than they would have if you hadn’t consumed the sweet stuff first? That’s because your taste buds adapt to the sweetness and the contrast between sweet and not sweet becomes that much more heightened. (Thus the old adage about not eating dessert first because it can spoil your appetite.)

    Using the same principle, you can train your kids’ taste buds to have less sugar. If you must serve juice or a soft drink (and they should only be occasional treats), then water it down with seltzer or water as much as possible. You’ll find that after a while, you and your family will find the undiluted juice and soda almost too sweet.
  1. Never serve soda or undiluted juice at mealtime. Replacing water or milk with sweetened beverages at mealtime can significantly cut down on the amount of sugar you and your family consume.
  2. Do not deny all sweets. One surefire way to make treats all the more tempting for kids is to ban it completely. Allow your child to have one or two pieces of candy or cookies once in a while so that he isn’t constantly looking for it. Often, children who have been forbidden to have any treats will try to sneak them at school or at friends’ houses. The best way to keep sweets to a minimum is to teach your child how to have it in moderate amounts.
  1. Think healthy treats. When including sweetness in kids’ meals and snacks, be sure to reach for fruit. While fruit does contain sugar, it is also full of important nutrients. Plus, they contain fiber, which is important for good health.

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