Vail Daily health feature: Tips for managing children’s sugar consumption
Special to the Daily
Tricks to limit sugar on Halloween
Halloween revolves around candy, so rather than trying to strip the holiday of its sugary fun, here are some tips to balance sugar intake.
• Offer pretzels, mini water bottles, tortilla chips, popcorn, sugar-free gum and the like.
• Offer party favors, such as fun pencils, rubber balls, wax lips, glow sticks, stickers and other small games. A 2003 Yale study showed kids were just as likely to choose toys as candy when deciding between the two while trick-or-treating, so don’t feel bad about cutting the sweets.
• Offer coins instead of candy.
• As a parent, place more of an emphasis on decorating pumpkins and dressing up.
• Once kids come home with their candy, create a game out of counting the candy, separating it into hard candy, chocolate and other treats and then making “snack baggies” filled with about three bite-size portions of candy that kids can enjoy once a day for a couple of weeks.
Adults may struggle when it comes to limiting children’s sugar intake (or even their own), particularly around upcoming holidays, beginning with Halloween, moving into Thanksgiving and peaking with the winter holidays.
In 2012, the Mayo Clinic reported that kids consume 16 percent of their total calories from sugar. While that may not seem like much, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends only 5 percent to 15 percent of total calories come from sugar. According to a study published in JAMA: Internal Medicine, participants who received 17 percent to 21 percent of their calories from added sugar increased their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 38 percent, compared to people who consumed 8 percent of their calories from sugar.
While percentages are nice to know, not everyone has time to do the math every day. To simplify things, the American Heart Association has produced guidelines on kids’ added sugar intake. Here are the daily limits:
• Preschoolers: 16 grams, or 4 teaspoons
• Ages 4 to 8: 12 grams, or about 3 teaspoons
• Preteen and teens: 20 to 32 grams, or 5 to 8 teaspoons
Yet, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, kids’ sugar consumption averages 23 teaspoons for boys and 18 for girls daily.
Why sugar draws kids
Babies are born with a predisposition to sweetness to encourage breastfeeding, and that biological affinity continues until adolescence. In addition, the excitement of celebrations such as birthdays and holidays is almost always paired with sweets like cake and cookies.
Take this propensity toward a sweet tooth and combine it with most food manufacturers’ practice of adding sugar to processed foods. Cereals, waffles, graham crackers, jelly and even granola or so-called nutrition bars can contain more grams of sugar than the recommended daily limit.
As kids (and adults) eat more sugar, their taste buds become desensitized to natural sweetness found in whole foods. That means they’re less likely to enjoy the sweetness in natural, whole foods and more likely to seek sweet sensations through processed foods.
Many parents believe sweeteners such as honey or pure maple syrup are better than white sugar, but Katie Mazzia, registered dietitian nutritionist at Vail Valley Medical Center, said, “Sugar is sugar; the body doesn’t know the difference.”
That’s part of the problem when consuming calories from sugar: Not only does sugar not contain any vitamins and minerals but, also, plenty of kids and adults use sugary foods to substitute nutritional caloric intake. Those sugary calories often lead to extra pounds and increasing risks for obesity and, therefore, diabetes. Plus, sugar contributes to cavities.
Striking a balance
Though sugar has its downfalls, it’s not an evil villain. It all comes down to dietary practices and taking planned steps to reduce sugar intake.
“We know everyone gets too much sugar if you’re not thoughtful about it,” Mazzia said. “You’d be really surprised — it adds up quick.”
Mazzia suggests the following simple strategies to reduce sugar intake and still enjoy the holidays, as well as a little dessert now and then.
• Avoid beverages such as soda, sports or energy drinks and even fruit juices. According to the American Heart Association, sugar-sweetened beverages contribute the most when it comes to added sugars in the American diet.
• Pair sugar with nutrient-dense foods. Combining sugar with protein or other nutritious foods slows the body’s absorption rate of sugar, adds vitamins and minerals to the body and also helps satiate appetites, which may prevent sugar overdoses.
• Don’t use sugar (or other foods) to reward children. Offering foods that are usually off limits as a treat is confusing and doesn’t promote healthy foods as the treat.
• Role model healthy habits and portion control. Sometimes, focusing on sugar as the bad guy takes the emphasis off the ultimate goal of eating nutritious meals, loaded with plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
“Kids pick up healthy habits from their parents,” Mazzia said, “so set an example.”
Everyone indulges once in a while, but showing your children that health matters will teach them to make it a priority, too.
This article was submitted by the Vail Valley Medical Center and previously ran in a publication for VVMC donors. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.