Preventing Type 2: What The AHA Says About Kids And Added Sugar

For those who may have missed it, last August the American Heart Association (AHA) issued a statement regarding children’s daily added sugar intake.

Added sugar refers to any type of sugar used in the processing or preparation of a food or beverage, including sugar added at the dinner table, or eaten separately. Added sugar does not include the natural sugars found in many foods such as apples, or carrots.

Consuming foods high in added sugar during childhood has been associated with an increased likelihood of conditions that can lead to heart disease, such as obesity, and elevated blood pressure. Overweight kids are also at risk of becoming insulin resistant—a precursor of type 2 diabetes.

The Recommendations

The AHA statement, written by group of experts following a research review, advises:

  • Kids between the ages of 2 and 18 should consume no more than six teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar daily. (Typical American children currently ingest three times this amount, and that’s a conservative estimate.)
  • Children under two years of age should not consume any food or drink containing added sugars. (Because the calorie requirement for this age group is less than for older kids and adults, the very young cannot afford to eat foods containing non-nutritional sugar calories.)
  • Both kids and teens should consume no more than eight ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages weekly. (Many children currently ingest their age in sweetened beverage servings each week.)

These recommendations are in line with World Health Organization suggestions, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the FDA’s counsel that added sugars should comprise fewer than 10 percent of our total calories.

Focus On Nutritious Foods

Whatever their age, if children are getting an adequate number of calories for healthy weight maintenance, there is little room in their diet for highly processed products that tend to be loaded with sugar (e.g., cookies, cereal bars, cakes, sweetened cereals, sodas, energy drinks).

“...the best way to avoid added sugars in your child’s diet is to serve mostly foods that are high in nutrition, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meat, poultry and fish, and to limit foods with little nutritional value,” said lead AHA statement author Miriam Vos, M.D., Ms.P.H., Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia.

Voss and her colleagues hope that by recommending a specific sugar amount to target, parents will have an easier time providing optimal nutrition to safeguard their children’s well-being. However, the sugar limits are strict in light of our easy access and familiarity with processed foods.

Tips For Reducing Sugar Intake

Most families will be more successful with limiting added sugar if they cut back gradually, instead of all at once—and here are some easy to implement ideas for reducing added sugar intake:

  • Purchase unflavored milk.
  • Drink water instead of sweetened beverages (e.g., sodas, sports drinks). Enjoying a bit of 100 percent fruit juice in sparkling water may help some people cut back on sodas.
  • Eat more whole fruit, or fruit based snacks and desserts.
  • Top waffles, pancakes, and toast with sliced fruit, or with “no-sugar added” jams and jellies.
  • Use less sugar when preparing baked goods, and consider using safe sugar substitutes such as stevia.
  • Read product labels and choose cereals, breakfast bars, granolas, and snacks that are low in sugar.

By reducing sugar intake we not only become healthier, but also more sensitive to the natural sweetness and delicate flavors of whole, less-processed foods. This makes limiting sugar less of a sacrifice, and more of a sweet deal.

Sources: Mayo Clinic; American Heart Association

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