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Tips to Reduce Added Sugars in a Child's Diet


- by Holly Larson, RD

While added sugars are not contributing to your family’s health, I wouldn't advocate for a sugar free eating pattern. Why not? Sugars are naturally packaged within fruit. If you tried to follow a sugar free diet, you'd be missing out on some robust nutritional opportunities. Mostly, we just need to cut back on the sweet treats and processed foods.

Food is a mixture of many things; the calories come from whatever fats, proteins and carbohydrates are in the food. You also find vitamins, minerals, water, and phytochemicals. There is also the possibility of added colors, preservatives, herbicides, pesticides, "good" bacteria (i.e. probiotics - yogurt) and "bad" bacteria (i.e. food poisoning) and even yeast (bread and beer) and fungi (mushrooms - yum, or spoiled food - yuck).

Moderation is Key

While we'd prefer to categorize foods as "good" or "bad", most things with nutrition are gray; the “poison is in the dose”, as well as the processing. Water is an essential nutrients, but it is possible to be overhydrated!

Some foods containing sugars are healthy, like fresh fruit, but in our current food system we are consuming way too many added sugars.  Adding sugar doesn't increase the nutritional value of the food - it just adds extra calories and puts our health at risk.

Our processed foods have added sugars because of their long shelf life. The preservatives and salt used to accomplish this taste bitter and so sugar is used to mask those flavors.

Identifying Added Sugars

If you look at a food label, how do you know? Unfortunately, this is a challenging task. Sugar is usually listed on the nutrient facts panel as a portion of the total carbohydrates, but from that information alone you don't know if it was a part of the food originally, or added somewhere down the processing line. Eventually our nutrition facts panel will distinguish between naturally occurring and added sugars, but for now we must rely on the ingredient list.

Besides "sugar", how do you know what words to look for in the ingredients list? Hint: most sugars end in -ose. Lactose, maltose, dextrin, glucose, xylose are a few sweet ingredients, but sugar is also concealed under and many, many more names.

Reducing Added Sugars

Some foods contain only naturally occurring sugar (apples or carrots), other contain only added sugars (sweet tea, chocolate chip cookies, high fructose corn syrup) and some contain both (sweetened apple sauce, ketchup, chocolate milk). The best advice is to minimize all sugars and to focus on reducing  added sugars in your daily routine; enjoy them as treats once in awhile.

What is the sweet summary? Sugar, when found naturally in whole fruit is a healthy part of a balanced eating plan. Too many added sugars, usually founds in processed foods, sweet drinks and treats, should be kept to a minimum or eliminated.

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Disclaimer: The information presented on this web site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment of specific medical conditions. Discuss this information with your healthcare provider to determine what is right for you and your family.

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