Consumer Reports: How much sugar is OK in kids' food?
"I'm seeing fatty liver and other metabolic problems, like high triglycerides and insulin resistance — which are precursors to later heart disease — in children as young as 5, and scores of children developing Type 2 diabetes by their mid-teens," says David Ludwig, the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children's Hospital.
That's why the American Heart Association recently recommended that children consume fewer than 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons) of added sugars per day, which amounts to 100 calories' worth. And it recommended no added sugars at all for kids younger than 2.
Many of the foods we eat contain naturally occurring amounts of sugars — especially dairy, fruit and some vegetables. But when experts talk about reducing the intake of sugars, they're referring to added sugars, which is any type that's added to a food to increase the sweetness.
What's so unhealthy about added sugars? The problem, Consumer Reports notes, apparently goes beyond the concern of empty calories pushing more nutritious ones out of the diet.
"Certain foods affect the body in other ways beyond just calories," Ludwig says. The most common sugars are a combination of fructose and glucose. The liver is supposed to convert the fructose into energy, but when the body is flooded with too much of it too fast, it instead creates new fat molecules that can lead to fatty liver, high triglycerides and insulin resistance.Ludwig also notes that reducing foods that are high in added sugars (like candy and soda) and replacing them with other highly processed carbohydrates (like white bread) is not much better. The key is to shift the dietary focus away from added sugars and all processed carbohydrates.
Until you can get your children to trade sweet treats for an apple, Consumer Reports says, it's even more important to sleuth out hidden sources of sugars in their diets. You already know you should limit their intake of candy, soda, sugary cereal and the like, but what about some of the seemingly "healthier" snack foods and organic treats? In many cases, they are no less sugar-laden — even if their sweetness comes from added sugar in one of its many other guises (like organic cane sugar, fruit juice concentrate, agave nectar, honey or brown rice syrup). And sugar can lurk in places where you least expect it, such as bread and spaghetti sauce.
This doesn't mean that your family can never indulge in sweets again, or that it's crucial to eliminate almost all added sugars. So even if the AHA recommendation seems unattainable, any reduction you make will still benefit your health. "If you're going to have sweets, have them after a balanced meal, serve a reasonable portion size and do it only occasionally," Ludwig says.
To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org.
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