Too much sugar from processed foods, sweets, and even juices cause many health issues, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Yet despite these facts, Americans consume an average of 57 pounds of sugar per person each year. The federal government recently adopted guidelines for limiting sugar intake.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting the amount of added sugars in our diet to no more than 10 percent of daily calories. That’s about 12 teaspoons of sugar a day, which is equal to ¼ cup of sugar. To put that in perspective, a can of Coke contains nearly 10 teaspoons. But are these guidelines appropriate for children? How much added sugar is actually safe for children to consume?
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), it is recommended that children between the ages of 2 to18 consume no more that 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day. For parents, this recommendation presents the difficult task of managing nearly everything children consume, both at home and away. Added sugar is in many foods that kids eat, including pasta sauces, cereals, granola bars, fruit snacks, yogurts, and juice boxes. As a result, the average child is consuming an average of 19 teaspoons of sugar a day.
Sugar is addicting and the more sugar we eat on a regular basis, the more our bodies will crave sugar. High levels of glucose in our blood (blood sugar) keeps us addicted to all varieties of sugar, especially processed and refined snacks.
That’s in part due to the fact that all of that table sugar – sucrose – found in a lot of the simple carbohydrates we eat, triggers the release of a great deal of insulin. Once sugar is broken down into fructose and glucose through digestion, insulin’s job is to transport glucose from the blood into cells to be used immediately as energy.
So consuming a lot of sugary food can trigger a roller coaster effect of high and low blood sugar levels. First, we eat a lot of sugary food and our blood sugar levels shoot up. This triggers the release of insulin, which moves the glucose into our cells. This brings our blood sugar levels way down, making us hungry again. Plus, the glucose in our cells that is not immediately used as energy is stored as – you guessed it – fat.
The sugar content of foods is generally rated using the glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking system of carbohydrates based on how they affect blood sugar levels once the carb is consumed. A high GI food is rated at 70+ and creates a spike in blood glucose levels, which affects insulin release. Low GI foods, rated at 45 and below, provide longer lasting and sustained blood glucose levels and energy. Not only do they reduce the incidence of diabetes, but they also protect heart health, increase brain function, and limit the formation of acne.
One way to reduce added sugar in your diet is to remove it from the home. By providing healthier, low-sugar snack options, and swapping out juices for water, sugar consumption can be reduced. Instead of eating granola bars or fruit snacks after school, snack on popcorn or pretzels. Both of these foods have no added sugar. Veggies and hummus and string cheeses are more great snack options with no added sugar.
Planning meals ahead of time is the best bet for eliminating that unwanted added sugar. By using whole foods in place of processed meals or take-out, the nutritional value of the meal is automatically increased, and added sugars can be virtually eliminated. If time to cook in the evening is an issue, try meal prepping to help save time and money.
Removing all sugar from the diet is no easy task, so it is best to take it one step at a time. Cutting sugar intake suddenly can cause withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and fatigue. Start by eliminating obvious sugary foods one at a time.