How much sugar can I actually give my young child?
Q: How much sugar is too much for kids?
Babies are born with a preference for sweets, and research shows that humans are naturally drawn to sweet tastes. Enjoying foods with added sugar, like cookies, can be part of a healthy diet when eaten occasionally and in appropriate portion sizes. Look at the package labeling for serving size suggestions, keeping in mind that children less than 12 years old should be consuming about half of the recommended serving size.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends children consume no more than 24 grams (about 6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day. It’s a surprisingly easy limit to reach. Added sugar includes the sugar added to breads, pasta sauces, flavored yogurts, ketchup, and salad dressings. It also includes the sugar in 100 percent fruit juice, soda, muffins, and candy. An 8-ounce glass of apple juice contains 24 grams of sugar.
Food and drink labels are now required to specify total sugar and added sugar, so more labels will have this helpful info. If you aren’t confident in your ability to read a nutrition label, refresh your memory. Consuming foods and beverages with added sugar in excess of the AHA recommendation can, over time, contribute to weight gain and dental cavities.
Indulge your child’s sweet tooth on occasion. On other days, tame the sweet tooth with healthy sweets such as fruit, applesauce, 100 percent fruit popsicles, and smoothies made with lots of fruit and some plain yogurt.
Here’s a fun recipe to try at home. These popsicles are smooth and sweet and use only a little bit of sugar:
Creamy banana and brown sugar popsicles
from Whole Foods Market, adapted by Dr. Weiss
3 medium bananas
1 cup plain Greek (or regular) yogurt
1 tablespoon brown sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In a food processor, purée bananas and yogurt until very smooth. Add sugar and cinnamon and mix briefly. Pour into molds and freeze eight hours or overnight.
—Valerie Weiss, MD
Dr. Valerie Weiss is a pediatrician at Vancouver Clinic. She has a special interest in helping families make healthy lifestyle choices to prevent or reverse obesity and its complications.