Sugar tastes wonderful and enhances the taste of other foods. However, it provides only “empty calories” and is of no nutritional value in that it contains no vitamins or minerals. It is easy for 4 to 8 year olds to eat 60 or so grams of added sugar a day, which over the period of a year adds up to 50 pounds of sugar. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommends that children and adults limit added sugar to 10 percent or fewer of daily calories. This is about half as much as children ages 4 to 8 are consuming now. Children are biologically programmed to prefer a higher level of sweetness than adults do. Sugar is full of calories, and we crave sweet food at an early age.
Young children who consume too much added sugar are at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, or both. Children aged 3 to 11 who drink about 12 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages daily have higher levels of C-reactive protein, an indicator of harmful inflammation in their bodies, than do children who do not consume sugary drinks. Eating too much added sugar may also trigger metabolic syndrome, which can increase the possibility of having heart disease, diabetes, and strokes.
Naturally occurring sugars in dairy products and whole, fresh fruit are not considered added-sugar because the body does not process them in the same way that it does sugar added to food. Learn to read labels to help identify added sugar, and try to find nonsweetened products. Encourage drinking water and limit juices. Limit soda and lemonade to special occasions. If your child drinks milk, use plain milk rather than flavored milk. Be sure your food does not contain added sweeteners like sugar alcohols, stevia or sucralose. Added sugar may be listed as high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, dextrose, fructose, maltose, or grain syrups. Words ending in “ose” usually indicate the presence of a sugar.