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Sugar & Weight, Choosing a Healthy Diet for Your Child

As a pediatrician in Phoenix, I often see children drinking sports drinks.  What’s shocking to me is that these drinks often contain more than twice the recommended daily sugar for an adult!  This is just one example of a growing epidemic of including too much sugar in a child’s diet.  It is important to understand the impact a child’s sugar intake has on their weight and overall health. When making nutritional choices, parents should keep in mind that calories from sugar add up quickly and over time can lead to weigh gain and other severe health issues.

Let’s differentiate between natural sugar and added sugar.  Natural sugar is found in unprocessed items exactly as they would be found in nature, such as the sugar in a strawberry.  Added sugar is any additional sugar that is added to foods during preparation.  Sugar additives and sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, and fructose are frequently added as a preservative in processed foods.  Do not be misled—even foods that do not taste sweet have these ingredients.  For instance, many varieties of crackers contain high fructose corn syrup although you would not classify them as sugary foods.

There are three main sources of sugar in a child’s diet.  Soda and sports drinks can contribute up to 30% of added sugar intake for your child.  Obvious sweets like cake, cookies, and ice cream are the second source of sugar in your child’s diet.  Both of these sources of sugar are fairly obvious, but it takes a very savvy consumer to recognize the third.  Through hidden sugar sources you may be unknowingly adding a significant amount of sugar into your child’s diet. Often advertised as healthy, items like granola bars, yogurt, trail mix, and soy milk mislead consumers about their sugar content.  Therefore, it is imperative that you read nutrition labels as well as the list of ingredients on a product.  The closer sugar is to the beginning of the list, the more sugar there is the food product.

The World Health Organization recommends that less than 10% of calories in a diet should come from added sugar.  Obviously, the most foolproof way of directing your child to healthy snacks is to provide them only healthy choices.  To curb your child’s sweet tooth, start by replacing some of their mid-day sweets with natural sugar and an item high in protein, like strawberries and a cheese stick.  The natural sweetness of the fruit will help curb their taste for sugar, while the protein in the cheese stick will leave them feeling fuller for longer, reducing the temptation to eat a sugary snack a few minutes later.

Desserts and treats can still be enjoyed—but in moderation.  A healthy diet is all about balance. Completely eliminating all sugar from a diet is unrealistic, but providing and encouraging healthy meals and snacks, teaching good eating habits, and saving sweets for special occasions will benefit your child’s health significantly.

If you are concerned about your child’s sugar intake or weight, please contact your pediatrician at Pediatrix.  Make an appointment to discuss healthy nutrition options for your child.




Subir K. Mitra, MD, FAAP

Posted in Blog on December 22nd, 2011