Sugar levels in kids’ meals are higher than WHO guidelines: Canadian study

WATCH: Robin Gill has the details on the WHO’s newest sugar intake guidelines.

Chicken fingers with plum sauce, honey mustard dressing on salad or barbecue sauce on ribs. These dishes may be common staples in your child’s diet but new Canadian research is warning that kids’ menu items in restaurants are packed with sugar.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization turned its recommendations on added sugar into daily limit guidelines. But University of Toronto doctors have warned that half of kids’ meals at chain restaurants exceed these new rules – in some cases, the dishes account for several days’ worth of the daily limits.

At this same time last year, the WHO dropped the gauntlet on consumers with its updated recommendations: sugar intake should be just five per cent of your total calories, which is half of what the global health agency had recommended years ago.

READ MORE: Cut sugar intake to 5-10 per cent of diet, WHO says

For an average woman who eats about 2,000 calories a day, that’s roughly 25 grams of sugar – less than half of a can of pop, about two portions of yogurt or an entire Caramilk bar.

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In kids, five per cent of a child’s daily energy requirement is 22 grams of sugar – or six teaspoons.

Turns out, most kids-size restaurant entrees and side dishes pack more sugar than these newly-minted guidelines, according to the study’s lead researcher Mary Scourboutakos, a doctoral student at the Toronto university’s department of nutritional sciences.

READ MORE: How much sugar should you be eating? How to follow the WHO’s guidelines

“We were shocked to find such high levels of sugar in some of these meals. These results shed light on the issue of sugar in the food supply and suggest that Canada should consider some of the sugar-focused policies up for debate in other parts of the world,” she said in a news release.

Scourboutakos combed through the nutritional information of 3,178 meals from 17 chain restaurants to track sugar content. The range in sugar levels was wide and varied, from zero to 114 grams.

But almost one of every five meals had more sugar than the previous guidelines – they called for double the current amount at 10 per cent of a person’s daily caloric intake.

Drinks were a major culprit when it came to main sources of added sugar. In some cases, they made up 70 per cent of the daily limit of sugar for kids right up to three days’ worth at 51 teaspoons of sugar.

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READ MORE: Toddler food often has too much salt, sugar, CDC study says

Entrées like ribs and chicken strips with dipping sauce clocked in with half of a day’s worth of a child’s sugar allowance, while dressings and sauces for salads and sandwiches – especially honey mustard, barbecue and raspberry chipotle sauces – made up a day’s worth of sugar or more, depending on how liberally the dishes were dressed.

There was a silver lining, though: some meals didn’t have any added sugar at all. Restaurants offered milk instead of soft drinks or fruit instead of ice cream.

READ MORE: Wendy’s drops soda from kids’ menu in Canada, U.S.

“The wide range of sugar levels, particularly in kids’ beverages, illustrates the importance of menu-labelling policies. Because sugar is the main source of calories in these beverages, calorie labelling would help parents identify which beverage is healthiest for their child,” the study’s senior author, Dr. Mary L’Abbé, said.

The study’s full findings were published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports. Read the full study here.

Last year, the WHO said it hoped its recommendations, now turned into guidelines, would make consumers cognizant that the food they may be eating isn’t fuel, but empty calories. So if your morning meal is a latte and a muffin, that’s more for feeding your growing waistline than your energy.

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READ MORE: How much sugar is in Nutella? Canadian doctor decodes what’s in the hazelnut spread

The WHO says its guidelines apply to all monosaccharides – such as glucose and fructose – as well as sucrose or table sugar that are added to food by the manufacturer, cook or consumer. It even includes sugar naturally found in honey, syrups and fruit concentrates. But the global health body says most of the sugar we eat today is “hidden” in processed foods we wouldn’t think would have it.

Think of bread, frozen dinners, salad dressings and ketchup as sugar bombs you wouldn’t think of compared to chocolate bars and candy.

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