5 things you really need to know about sugar

Whether your child has a sweet tooth or not, parents often have questions about sugar. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that the body uses as a source of energy. Some foods naturally contain sugar like fruit (fructose) and dairy (lactose).

Added sugars are the biggest dietary concern because excessive intake of sugar can cause unnecessary weight gain. In children, early excessive weight gain can lead to type 2 diabetes and other adult-type conditions like high triglycerides. 

In recent years, there seems to be a growing list of sweetening options available on grocery store shelves, but here are 5 things you really need to know.

  1. Your child’s body doesn’t know the difference between all of those added sugars.  Whether it’s honey, cane sugar, or plain old white granulated, your child’s body will use each source for energy, and store the excess as fat.  There are some specific medical situations when a child’s body can’t tolerate a certain kind of sugar (fructose or lactose intolerances), but most often, the body won’t differentiate the rest.
  2. Know your sugar terminology.  All of the following are added sugars that can be found in the ingredient list.  Remember, no one is particularly better (or worse) for your child:  Corn syrup, Cane sugar, fruit juice concentrate, honey, agave, sucrose, molasses, maple sugar, brown sugar, and raw sugar. 
  3. Other than sweetened beverages, breakfast is one of meals highest in added sugar.  Sweetened breakfast cereals, breakfast pastries, muffins, jelly, syrup…all are common sources of sugar in a child’s diet.  If one of these items is on the menu, consider making some adjustments in the snacks and other meals for the day to balance the diet.  
  4. The food label does not distinguish between added and naturally occurring sugars.  In order to get an idea about how much added sugar the product contains, look at the ingredient list.  Ingredients are listed by weight, so the earliest items in the list are the major components of the product. If sugar or a sweetening product is one of the first three ingredients, leave it on the shelf.
  5. Don’t be fooled by manufacturer’s labels. Recently, companies have started to make their own claims on product packages, but these claims are not often regulated.  Just because the manufacturer tells you it’s a good choice, doesn’t mean it would meet your requirements for a healthy item. Always check the ingredients.
A child’s consumption of sugar sweetened foods and beverages is particularly concerning because these foods may take the place of more healthy foods needed for growth and development. Trying to limit the added sugar in your child’s diet to zero may be impossible, but this is  one true instance where moderation is the golden rule.

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