It’s in juice, pasta sauce and even bread – do you know how much sugar your kids are eating? For the first time, the American Heart Association has issued its recommendations on added sugar, urging parents to make sure children between two and 18 are eating fewer than six teaspoons per day.
That’s not a lot of sugar. Right now, kids eat about 19 teaspoons per day – three times more than the new recommendations.
“Our target recommendation is the same for all children between the ages of 2 and 18 to keep it simple for parents and public health advocates. For most children, eating no more than six teaspoons per day is a healthy and achievable target,” Dr. Miriam Vos, a nutrition scientist and pediatrics professor at Emory University, said in a statement.
“There has been a lack of clarity and consensus regarding how much added sugar is considered safe for children, so sugars remain a commonly added ingredient in food and drinks,” Vos said.
The AHA released three new guidelines:
- Children between two and 18 should eat fewer than six teaspoons of added sugar per day. That’s about 25 grams of sugar or 100 calories
- Children and teens should limit their intake of sugar-sweetened drinks to no more than eight ounces weekly. That’s about 240 millilitres and keep in mind, a can of pop is about 355 millilitres
- Children under the age of two should not eat or drink anything with added sugars, including sugar-sweetened drinks
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The AHA says that eating food high in sugar throughout childhood is tied to developing a string of health concerns, including heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure.
Instead of eating healthy fare, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, kids could be loading up on processed, pre-packaged goods, the health officials say.
The guidelines were pulled together by an expert panel that reviewed studies on the effects of added sugar. Ultimately, they decided that kids under two shouldn’t have any added sugar at all because their caloric needs are already so small. This age group is also developing taste preferences, so limiting added sugars could help them forge healthier long-term habits.
Added sugars are any sugars, such as table sugar, fructose and honey, which are used in processing or preparing food and drinks, or added to food at the table.
The AHA didn’t issue any guidelines on sugar substitutes, such as aspartame and sucralose, though.
Kate Comeau, a Halifax-based registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Dietitians of Canada, said there are easy ways for parents to try to navigate sugar levels for their kids.
“It can be difficult for parents to put these recommendations into practice since the amount of ‘added sugars’ isn’t indicated on product labels in Canada. A good place to start is looking at the ingredient list for words like ‘sugar,’ ‘syrup’ or words that end in ‘-ose,'” she told Global News.
“The greatest source of added sugar for children is sugary drinks, not ketchup. So this is a good place to start if parents are concerned,” she said.
Global health officials dropped the gauntlet on the food industry when it comes to sugar over the past few years. In 2014, for example, the World Health Organization updated its recommendations: sugar intake should be just five per cent of your total calories, half of what the health agency had recommended years ago.
The WHO had said its hope was that the recommendations would make consumers cognizant that the food they may be eating isn’t fuel, but empty calories. The AHA is saying the same – if parents want to curb sugar intake in their kids, start with the obvious culprits, such as the sweet processed foods, such as cereal bars, cookies, cakes and food marketed specifically to kids.
So how much sugar is in common kitchen staples? Take a look and remember, the aim is to stick to less than 25 grams for kids (These measurements list total sugar content, not added sugar):
- An Oikos Greek yogurt portion: 12 grams of sugar
- Veal Parmigiana frozen dinner: 8 grams of sugar
- Michelina’s General Tao chicken: 14 grams of sugar
- Wonderbread: 4 grams of sugar per two slices
- Kraft BBQ Sauce: 10 grams of sugar per two tablespoons
- Heinz Ketchup: 5 grams of sugar per tablespoon
- Coke: 42 grams of sugar per 355 ml can
- Red Bull: 27 grams of sugar per 250 ml can
- Caramilk chocolate bar: 24 grams of sugar for the entire bar
- Breyer’s Ice Cream: 20 grams of sugar per half cup
- Minute Maid Grape Juice Box: 19 grams of sugar per juice box
- Nutella: 11 grams of sugar per tablespoon
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