This is a bit of a vent/confessional/wake-up call.
Just some helpful information:
The American Health Association has set these guidelines for children’s sugar consumption:
Preschool age kids usually eat 1200-1400 calories a day and their maximum added sugar (so excluding the natural sugars found in fruits, dairy, and some whole grains) consumption should be 16.7 grams.
Kids age 4-8: maximum sugar consumption should be 12.5 g sugar (interesting that it’s less than younger kids).
Pre-teen and teenagers: maximum sugar should be 21-33 grams.
That is very little sugar!!!!
Here’s some common kid snacks, and a few things I have in my own pantry (oh the shame), with the sugar grams per serving.
These (even the Apple chips) are all added CRAP sugar, and basically if your kid is having one or two of these types of things a day, they are over the limit! Astounding right?! This isn’t meant to be a guilt trip because as moms we are TRYING, but at times it’s easier to just say, “yeah sure, here’s a snack,” without really realizing that all that CRAP adds up!
Let’s be real for a second. What motivated this post is that we had a super busy week last week, out of the norm, and so my kids’ nutrition was just… whatever. We went to Lagoon (amusement park), and my kids, that morning ate fruit loops (which I never buy! But somehow they’re in my pantry). Then asked for soda (which I denied them) and pizza at Lagoon, and also had cotton candy. They had a kids protein bar on the way home, a popsicle the babysitter gave them, and basically I was in complete horror to keep track of the rest of the day lol. I did a brief calculation and my kids consumed somewhere like 65 grams of sugar. Now I don’t consider myself a health Nazi at all, because I love baking cookies, and taking my kids out for ice cream.. We all love treats! This was an exceptional “off day” but what’s scary, is that many kids eat that kind of diet every. single. day.
Here’s the science behind why that is scary!
Consuming too much added sugar over long periods of time can affect the natural balance of hormones that drive critical functions in the body. Eating sugar increases levels of glucose in the bloodstream, which leads the pancreas to release insulin. Higher levels of insulin, in turn, cause the body to store more food calories as fat.
Insulin also affects a hormone called leptin, which is our natural appetite suppressant that tells our brains we are full and can stop eating. Imbalanced insulin levels, along with high consumption of certain sugars, such as fructose, has been linked to a condition called leptin resistance,11 in which the brain no longer “hears” the message to stop eating, thus promoting weight gain and obesity.
Leptin resistance enabled our ancestors to survive long periods of limited food supply by encouraging them to overeat during times of plenty and enabling them to conserve more calories as fat. In the modern world, that’s not a benefit. To make matters worse, people with leptin resistance also tend to feel sluggish, making it difficult to be active and contributing to further weight gain.
(American Heart Association)
Here’s the bottom line: Too much added sugar messes with your hormones and normal body functions! It’s not just about obesity and the risk of having a “fat kid,” it actually sends their brain’s control centers out of whack!!
Now that we’re all scared and feeling guilty, let’s address the great things we CAN do as parents, because after all, it is OUR responsibility to teach our children healthy habits, and to nourish them appropriately.
1. Don’t reward children with sugar. I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say I’m guilty. Empty (addictive) unhealthy calories just don’t seem appropriate for good behavior, when you think about it.
2. Heavily limit (or get rid of) sugary soda and juice. I’m the mean mom that doesn’t buy their kids pop. Deal with it 😉 I’m also slightly angered when I see “juice” for kids, that is actually 0% juice, and 100% high fructose corn syrup or whatever. Seriously WTF.
3. Consider making homemade snacks with stevia, applesauce, natural fruits as sweeteners. Gradually make the swaps so they don’t notice as easily 😉
4. Don’t encourage a treat after meals. My kids are the BEST at negotiating treats after every. single. meal. I don’t recall giving them that idea, but I must have! Save treats for special occasions, and for family time.
5. Watch labels- yes, there is sugar added to everything. Tomato sauce, fruit snacks, you name it. Choose wisely.
6. If you buy it and have it sitting in plain view, kids will want it. You are in control of what you bring into the house. If you don’t have pop-tarts, kids won’t ask for pop-tarts.
7. Be an example. Although my husband and I try to eat healthy, our kids still are obsessed with sugar. It’s pretty typical, but I will continue to make the extra effort to offer them healthy snacks, encourage them to eat their vegetables, and hope that our healthy habits will be noticed and adopted by them.