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  • Denise Scott

Serious Reasons to Reduce Sugar in Your Child’s Diet

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

The word sugar written in a pile of sugar

Sugar is a pervasive ingredient in any food that contains carbohydrates. Some sugars occur naturally in food, such as fruit, grains, and dairy. Some carbohydrates convert to sugar - pasta, bread, and rice. Some foods contain added sugars - processed foods - cereals, snack foods, flavored yogurts, soft drinks, etc. - and these are the ones to decrease in your child’s diet, for health’s sake.

Whole foods with natural sugars - fruit, whole grains, dairy, and vegetables - are healthy to consume since these foods offer additional nutrients such as fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. We consider these foods nutrient-dense. These foods can be anti-inflammatory for the body and serve as energy sources. These foods are digested more slowly, which helps to avoid sugar spikes and drops in the bloodstream.

Whole foods like fruit, grains, and vegetables, pictured here, contain natural sugars and are nutrient-dense.

The problem is food that contains added sugar, which has been added to increase the flavor or shelf-life of manufactured foods. The amount of added sugar is listed on the food label with total sugars. Added sugar amounts are the ones to pay attention to. When checking labels, be sure to check the number of servings per container since added sugars are listed per serving.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association have recommended that children and women not consume more than 6 teaspoons, or 25 grams, of added sugar daily. This equals about 100 calories. This amount is easily reached or exceeded in a single 12-ounce can of regular soda, bottled sweetened tea, or a caramelized Frappuccino. Sugar-sweetened beverages are the most substantial source of added sugar intake in the American diet. If you only do one thing for your child, eliminate or significantly reduce all sugar-sweetened beverages.

These include:

  • soda

  • fruit juices

  • sports drinks

  • energy drinks

  • dessert coffees

  • sweetened teas

  • flavored waters with sugar

Sugary drinks comprise almost half (46%) of added sugar consumption!

Sugar-sweetened beverages are loaded with added sugar (depicted here as a cup of sugar cubes) and account for almost half of the sugar consumed in this country.

Beverage companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars marketing sugary drinks to youth yet have no accountability for the health risks they create. These added sugars have significantly contributed to the obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemics. Excess sugar is literally killing our kids, making them more vulnerable to a host of future diseases.

Why is this important, and why does sugar matter so much?

I will outline numerous reasons why excess sugar consumption is a dangerous health risk.

  1. Heart disease - the higher the intake of sugar, the greater the risk for heart disease. Excess sugar is converted in the liver to fat, primarily triglycerides, which leads to cardiovascular disease.

  2. Fatty liver disease - the liver metabolizes excess sugar (primarily fructose and high-fructose corn syrup) similarly to alcohol, converting it to fat. This can lead to fatty liver disease, eventually affecting the liver’s function. This has been termed nonalcoholic liver disease to distinguish it from alcoholic liver disease. Alarmingly, this is being seen in children.

  3. Weight gain - too much sugar can lead to weight gain, insulin resistance, and ultimately type 2 diabetes. Too much sugar leads to an increase in appetite and can be addictive.

  4. Dental health - too much sugar leads to cavities and tooth decay.

  5. Mental health - excess sugar consumption can affect mental health and has been linked to an increased risk for anxiety and depression.

  6. Inflammation - high sugar intake is known to create inflammation in the body which can affect the brain (contributing to cognitive impairment, mood disorders, and dementia), heart (contributing to heart disease), autoimmune disorders, and some cancers.

  7. Energy - while sugar intake may give you an energy burst due to a spike in blood sugar, this is followed by a quick drop or crash in blood sugar, leading to fluctuating energy levels. Such blood sugar fluctuations can lead to overall fatigue and moodiness.

  8. Acne - frequently eating foods with a high sugar content can lead to higher androgen (male hormone) and oil production, increasing the risk of acne. Excess sugar may also make your skin age faster.

  9. Joints - excess sugar leads to inflammation which can lead to joint pain and increased risk of arthritis.

  10. Cancer - obesity increases the risk for multiple cancers. The inflammation created by excess sugar intake creates an environment conducive to cancer cell growth. Obesity, insulin resistance, and inflammation can all increase cancer risk.

Skull and crossbones made out of sugar cubes depicting the toxicity of too much sugar.

To summarize - there are NO health benefits from added sugar. The easiest way to reduce sugar consumption is: evaluate what you and your child drink. This simple measure can go a long way in reducing your child’s future health risks.

Next week’s article will be full of easy ways to further reduce sugar consumption.

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