Sugar Shock

Do you know how much sugar your child eats?
Chances are it’s a lot more than you think.

Treats and Consequences
No mom in her right mind would pack her child’s lunch box with nothing but four Twinkies. You probably stick with the classics: maybe peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread, a cup of applesauce, and fruit punch. Protein-rich peanut butter, fruit, fiber-filled bread – it’s perfect, right?

Maybe not. Sure, your child would get plenty of nutrients, but she’d also get a whopping 76 grams of sugar. That’s 16 teaspoons of sugar — even more than what’s in those four Twinkies. Shocking, right?

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Don’t be fooled by food labels. On the nutrition-facts label, sugar is measured in grams — which isn’t at all easy to visualize. Keep in mind that four grams is about one teaspoon.

Pay attention to “natural” sweeteners like strawberry purees and concentrates, which are commonly found in foods such as fruit rolls and flavored applesauce. “They’re just processed sugar by another name,” says Dr. Ludwig.

Think small. When you do dish out a dessert like ice cream, put it in teacups, not soup bowls.

Teach kids to be choosy. Let children have a treat, but only one each day, says Margo Wootan, PhD, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. When Dr. Wootan and her daughter go out to dinner, her daughter knows she can have either soda or dessert — but not both. “You need to put sweets back in the proper place in your child’s diet,” she says.

Avoid processed foods. The more control you have over what your child eats, the better. For example, one packet of maple- and brown-sugar?flavored oatmeal has 13 grams of sugar. You can add these ingredients to regular oatmeal yourself (which has no sugar), using half the sweetener.

Look beyond the usual suspects. Added sugar often pops up in seemingly healthy foods, like low-fat or whole wheat products. A whole wheat bagel, for example, can have eight grams of sugar – six more than a plain one. Compare brands to find the lowest amount.

Make compromises. Banning sugary cereal will just make your child want it more. Let him have it, but only if he mixes it with a whole-grain one with no added sugars.

Skip the soda. Ditch the liquid sugar by helping your kids make their own fizzy drinks. Get a bottle of seltzer, add some juice, and they can mix up any flavor they want. Six ounces of seltzer plus two ounces of orange juice contains about six grams of sugar, versus 35 grams in a can of orange soda.

Long-Term Trouble
Even if the effects of sugar overload don’t seem obvious now, they can hurt your child’s health later. “Eating too much of it can make kids gain weight, which then puts them at greater risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol — three major contributors to heart disease,” says Dr. Shu. Today, one in three American children are too heavy; a recent study in the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity suggests that nearly half will be overweight by 2010.
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Photos by: James Wojick