Sugar: Should Kids Eat It?

Sugar: Should Kids Eat It?

Anytime the word “sugar” is mentioned in reference to kids, the automatic response lands somewhere between “no and never” and “necessary poison”. But just like anything else, it’s not quite as simple as it sounds. Let’s talk about different kinds of sugars and what they mean, what to avoid, and what’s not really so bad when we’re talking sugar.

Types of Sugar

First up, let’s talk about what sugar is.

This simple chemistry lesson can help you understand the basics. There are two types of sugars, one-molecule sugars (monosaccharides) and two-molecule sugars (disaccharides). The three kinds of monosaccharides are:

  • glucose
  • fructose
  • galactose

There are also three kinds of disaccharides;

  • sucrose (table sugar),
  • lactose (milk sugar)
  • maltose (malt sugar)

These disaccharides are each made up of two monosaccharides.

Long story short, no matter what kind of sugar it starts out as, the body breaks it all down into one of the three monosaccharides: glucose, fructose, or galactose. So how can some sugars be good and some be bad? Well let’s keep going to answer that question.

Sugar in Our Food

Next, let’s talk about how sugar gets into our food. The simplest way to categorize the sources of sugars is as natural sugars (sugars found naturally in foods) or processed or added sugars. Obviously, there are some foods that have both and some sugars that don’t neatly fit into either category, but in general, sugars are either naturally found in foods (such as fruits or honey) or added to foods (such as brown sugar, corn syrup, or glucose).

But are some sugars good and some bad? The answer to this question is hotly debated and answers conflict. A simple answer is this, if the food that you are eating has more nutrients or health benefits in it than sugar, it’s probably a pretty good choice. But if the food you are eating has more sugar in it than nutrients, it’s probably best to make another choice.

Foods that have good, natural sugars include fruits and vegetables, honey, and milk. These foods are nutrient-dense, meaning they have many vitamins and minerals for the amount of calories they supply. They also don’t have additional sugar added during their processing. But be careful—some of these foods can have sugar added along the way (for example, chocolate milk or dried fruits with added sugar).

So how do we know if what we’re eating has added or processed sugars? Some foods are obvious: candy, baked goods, and sodas almost always have sugar added. But there are some foods that aren’t so easily identified: yogurt, cereal, granola, and granola bars have different amounts of sugar added depending on the brand and style of the product.

Reading the Nutrition Label

When you’re looking at the ingredient list on food labels, look for the following names of added sugars like

  • brown sugar
  • confectioner's powdered sugar
  • corn syrup
  • high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • invert sugar
  • malt syrup
  • maltose
  • sucrose
  • white granulated sugar

    Remember that the ingredient lists are listed in order by weight from most to least. So if you see one of these sugars listed in the first 5 ingredients, it’s probably best to make a different choice.

    The Nutrition Facts label can also provide information on the amount of sugar in each serving. Added and natural sugars will not be listed separately, but it will give you a good idea of how much sugar is in each serving. The amount of sugar will be listed in grams, but to help you have a more visual idea of how much sugar is in the item, divide the total number of sugar grams from the label by 4. So if a product has 16 grams of sugar in it, there are 4 teaspoons of sugar in it.

    There are plenty of benefits to cutting back on sugars: improved oral health, more room for healthy alternatives like fruits and veggies, fewer sugar cravings, improved overall health, and a decreased risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes are just a few of them.

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