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At home: Sugar Awareness Week

September 12, 2013

We’ve been getting pretty concerned about the kids’ sugar intake – Ben’s specifically, he’s always been a freaking hummingbird – and so last week I went looking for official recommendations about sugars. That’s harder to get a handle on than you’d think. Finally, I found this report from the World Health Organization: It says that added sugars (also called “free sugars”) should make up no more than 10% of caloric intake.

Disclaimer: I’m not a nutritionist, I’m just making a SWAG based on web readings…talk to your doctor about nutrition for you and your kids.

Added sugars include sugars added to foods like: cereal, jelly, pop tarts, yogurt, desserts, candy, and almost anything marketed for kids.  Added sugars also include concentrated sugars, as in fruit juice, honey, and syrup.

So, taking a rough guess at 1,500-1,800 calories per day for a kid, that means no more than 150-180 calories from free sugars. Granulated sugar is about 4 calories per gram, so we have a goal of <45 grams of sugar per day, per kid.

There’s no way I’m going to get a 5-year-old to read nutrition labels and track how much sugar he’s had in a day. So, here’s what we did.

  1. Looked at a few of their favorite cereals, juice, treats, and non-candy desserts. Most have between 12 and 15 grams of sugar. (Candy has more.)
  2. Did the quick math: 4 servings of this stuff is around the recommended limit.
  3. Used a kitchen scale to show the kids how much sugar they were eating every day. Explained that was unhealthy in the long term.
  4. Set a 4 sugar things per day limit, and explained what that included. (There’s even a Sugar Awareness Week chart on the wall that lists the sugary things they generally choose from at each meal/snack. I’ll put a picture up later if I can remember.)

The interesting thing is what’s NOT included in the Added Sugars category: fruit is okay, regular milk is okay, and (to me, generally) anything with <3g of sugar (like bread) is perfectly okay. We’re not counting every gram in every single thing, but instead looking for the big contributors. After all, we’re not looking to make their lives miserable or tedious; we want to educate them about sugar and get them eating healthier, in a way that’s easy to understand and sustain.

So far it’s been brilliant. We don’t make a big deal about it, we don’t lecture. “Can I have a Pop-tart?” “Is that your sugar thing for the morning? If so, that’s fine.” They understand the limit. They haven’t been arguing or begging. They still enjoy their favorite stuff: Benny had 2 sugar things this morning, his cereal and his chocolate milk. He’s got one for lunch, and he’ll get a dessert after dinner (if he eats his meat and veg). He’s golden.

We also don’t push to reach the 45g goal. Eric didn’t ask for a fourth sugar thing the other day; we didn’t remind him. This, as well as the awareness campaign, has been an important step in my education, as well. I grew up eating out of boxes – let’s hear it for sugary, processed food! – and not thinking of nutrition. For two years in high school, lunch was a Sprite, a 3 Musketeers bar, and Cheetos. That’s…not good.  And food, of course, equals comfort and good things.  So, for me to not offer my kids more packaged crap, as an expression of love and support, is a real step forward for me.

Next week I think we’ll continue this plan, and have Veggie Awareness Week on top of it. (The WHO article recommends 400g of veggies daily, for adults.) I’ll let you know how it goes.

Oh…and if you do something like this, or have done, let me know how it goes.  Don’t do anything crazy though, okay? Kids need proper nutrition to grow and thrive, so never try to restrict their calories without strict instructions from their doctor.


P.S. If you were wondering…Sean and I are already eating a standard, pretty low-sugar diet. No juice, very little in the way of processed foods, usually no desserts or just a taste of chocolate, etc. Working out and losing weight. Eating well is a family affair, not something we’re pushing on the kids.

P.P.S Lisette was raised right, and already has a low added-sugar diet as her routine. Cereal in the morning, dessert at night, usually. And she eats a fair amount of fruit and veg. Attagirl.


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