By Joy Saudargas, MA, RD, LDN
You make sure they eat their fruits and vegetables, limit their intake of sweets and snacks, and pack mostly whole foods in their preschool lunchbox. Even if your toddler can say “edamame” and “quinoa,” their diet is likely not as balanced as you had hoped. They are almost definitely consuming too much sugar.
New guidelines released by the American Heart Association have left many health-conscious parents with the same predicament. They thought their toddlers’ diets were nutritious, but, in most cases, they’re actually overflowing with unnecessary and dangerous levels of added sugar. These diets should be reexamined immediately and, almost definitely, fixed to remove some or all added sugar.
What the Research Says
The American Heart Association reviewed studies about the connection between added sugar in children’s diets and their increased risk for developing several medical conditions. These conditions include heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
The American Heart Association found that the risk of developing these diseases increases when added sugar in the diet reaches a certain level. Unfortunately, that dangerous level is far below the amount of added sugar currently consumed by most children in the United States. For children with ADD, ADHD, depression, and anxiety, cutting back on added sugar by eating a balanced diet with whole grains, lean meat, fruits, vegetables, and dairy has been shown to reduce symptoms of these conditions.
How Much Sugar Is Too Much?
The acceptable amount of added sugar in your child’s diet is surprisingly low: only six teaspoons, or 100 calories per day. For children under two years old, the American Heart Association recommends that they avoid all added sugars. Consuming more than these recommended amounts puts kids in the danger zone.
Six teaspoons of added sugar per day is a relatively small amount. In one can of regular soda, there are over nine teaspoons of added sugar. While soda may fall into the “special treat” category for healthy kids, seemingly nutritious alternatives have hidden sugars. A glass of orange juice, which many parents would consider to be a natural and healthy choice for children, contains as many as six teaspoons of added sugar. Even something as innocuous as a little bit of ketchup, which has a teaspoon of added sugar in every serving, can add up over the course of a day. By reading ingredient labels for hidden sugar words like corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, dextrose, and malt syrup, parents can learn quickly how much sugar their child is actually eating and drinking.
Tips to Reduce Added Sugar in Your Toddler’s Diet
There are a few simple rules that parents can follow to help reduce the amount of added sugar in their toddler’s diet:
- Reduce or eliminate soda and fruit juices: Just one can of soda exceeds the daily guidelines for added sugar. Water is always first for thirst!
- Provide your child with fruit instead of fruit juices to reduce the amount of added sugar in their diet.
- Serve mostly whole foods: Processed foods have a lot of unnecessary additives, including sugar.
- Take another look at breakfast: Carefully read the labels on cereals since these are some of the biggest added-sugar offenders, and consider alternatives like oatmeal.
- Eat at home: Eating at a restaurant can be a fun occasional treat, but you have no control over how much sugar is added to the meal by the chef.
- Talk to children about food: Educating them about nutrition, rather than just saying no, can help even young children start to make healthy choices for themselves.
With a little revamping to remove the added sugar, your toddler will soon be back on track to a healthy and balanced diet.
About the Author
Joy Saudargas, MA, RD, LDN
Joy specializes in medical nutrition therapy. One of her favorite things about being a Registered Dietitian at Crozer-Keystone Health System is the sense of community and togetherness she experiences within the system.
To schedule a nutrition appointment, please call 800-254-3258.