Kids these days eat WAY too much sugar — 19 teaspoons of added sugar a day on average! Not only does this negatively affect little moods and attention spans (hello, temper tantrums and not following directions), but kids’ physical health as well. Not to worry — you can easily reduce kid’s sugar intake with just these five simple tips.
NOTE: This post is sponsored by RETHINK Water though all thoughts and opinions are of course my own! I only work with companies whose products I genuinely trust and believe in. Thank you for supporting the brands that make it possible for me to continue offering free content to Body Unburdened readers!
So you wouldn’t knowingly fill your child’s lunchbox with sugar cubes…
(Or at least I’m hoping not!)
But the fact of the matter is, from their first bite of breakfast to their last bite of dessert, kids these days are pretty much eating a steady stream of sugar all day long.
Consider the classic PB&J sandwich: sure, peanut butter has a bit of protein and the bread may have some fiber, but one sandwich also packs a whopping 76 grams of sugar — that’s equal to 19 teaspoons or almost half a cup of sugar!
And a juice box filled with 100% apple juice has 24 grams of sugar or 6 teaspoons.
So a kid consuming JUST a PB&J sandwich and a box of apple juice for lunch is getting a mega 100 grams of sugar! This is 2.5 times the 40 grams of sugars adults on a 2,000-calorie-a-day are advised to consume during the entire course of a day in just one sitting for one little person.
This sky-high sugar intake has a major impact on kids’ health.
When kids (or anyone, really) consumes refined sugar or a snack or meal rich in simple carbs, their blood sugar levels quickly spike resulting in a surge of energy. Once blood sugar levels begin to fall, the body releases adrenaline to compensate, which can contribute to hyperactivity in children.
Plus, after blood sugar levels spike to unnatural and unhealthy levels (as easily happens from foods high in sugar or simple carbs), they then fall below normal. This leaves kids lethargic and very moody, and the body craving more sugar and simple carbs in order to bring blood sugar levels back up again. It’s a viscous cycle I call “the blood sugar rollercoaster.”
Ability to learn new things
Studies have shown that high-sugar diets reduce the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This chemical is key for the creation of memories and the brain’s ability to rewire itself in response to new information and experiences. So less BDNF essentially means a decreased ability to learn new things.
Plus let’s be real: if kids are riding the blood sugar rollercoaster — with their energy levels and moods going up and down and up and down — are they going to be able to concentrate in school and when sitting down with mom and dad to study? No.
Sugar reduces white blood cells’ ability to tackle pathogens. One study found that 100 grams of sugar — about the equivalent found in 1 medium-sized soda bottle — can reduce the ability of white blood cells by 40%, that this occurs within 30 minutes of consumption, and lasts up to 10 hours.
Plus, sugar competes with vitamin C for absorption into white blood cells. Since we need vitamin C for a healthy immune response, this further compromises immune health.
Obesity and Type II Diabetes
One energy needs are met and glucose reserves are filled, excess glucose in the body is literally turned into fat. So it is any wonder that 18.5% of all American kids ages 2 to 19 are obese? This percentage more than tripled from the 1970s to today. And of children with type 2 diabetes, about 80% are overweight and 40% are clinically obese — many doctors and researchers believe obesity to be a driving force.
Not surprisingly, one study found that reducing consumption of added sugar, even without reducing calories or losing weight, has the power to reverse metabolic diseases in children and drastically reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
5 Simple Ways to Reduce Kids’ Sugar Intake
1. Ditch the juice
Even juices made with no added sugars contain around 16-24 grams of sugar per serving — the equivalent to 4-6 teaspoons of sugar in just 1 serving of juice!
And here’s the most important thing: with juice, there’s absolutely no fiber, protein, or fat to slow the glucose absorption into the bloodstream. So the rise in blood sugar levels is immediate and profound.
Let’s take a look at the amount of sugar in some popular kids’ juices:
Another important thing to consider: how many of these juices is the average kid drinking in a day? Probably at least two to three. So if a child is drinking 2 8 oz servings of orange juice, that’s the equivalent to 13 teaspoons of sugar right there!
Not surprisingly, one study in children showed that the risk of obesity was increased by 60% for each daily serving of sugar-sweetened beverages. And as we can see, there’s no reason to assume that fruit juices would have a different effect than other sugary drinks. Several other studies (like this one and this one and this one) show that fruit juice is linked to an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes (while whole fruit is linked to a decreased risk). Not surprisingly, some researchers have concluded:
So of course, tip #1 is to ditch juice!
And drinks containing chemical artificial sweeteners aren’t the solution since these ingredients have been linked to a number of health issues (including obesity and type 2 diabetes — ha! Ironic).
But of course, it’s understandable that kids want some flavor and getting them to drink water can be tricky! Which is exactly why RETHINK Water Kids is so genius — it has a subtle but super yummy flavor without all of the sugar. In fact, it contains no sugar, calories, or sodium. And it’s certified organic.
Simply swapping out juice for RETHINK Water Kids cuts out about 20% of the total sugars from a child’s diet!
Now this all amazing great, right? But what about the true test: how kids like it.
Well let me tell you that my nieces are bigtime juice drinkers (I’m working with my sister on this!) and so I was worried about what they’d think — going from a liquid lollipop to a much healthier option. But they LOVED it! The 3 year-old was also really excited that it came in a box just like her other juice, and the 5-year-old giggled about the “cute little fruit” on the box. By the end of the day, they were both specifically requesting RETHINK (needless to say, this made me VERY happy!).
RETHINK Water Kids is now sold at most major grocery stores (including Target and Walmart) across the US, and you can search to see which stores in your local area carry it here on their website. It’s also available here on Amazon.
2. Give breakfast a much-needed upgrade
All of my clients know how I feel about breakfast: it absolutely IS the most important meal of the day when it comes to maintaining balanced blood sugars.
And let’s be real: most typical “breakfasts” these days are really dessert when it comes to sugar content! Especially those marketed to kids.
Pancakes, waffles, toaster pastries, toast, cereals? All dessert.
Honestly, even oatmeal (especially if it includes dried fruit and maple syrup or brown sugar) and sweetened greek yogurts contain a lot of sugar and/or carbs (which remember, is sugar to your body).
So replace these sugar-filled breakfast foods with a wholesome and satisfying breakfast heavier in protein and healthy fat rather than carbs. Not only do carbs spike blood sugar levels, but they’re also digested and burnt off quickly. This means tiny bellies will soon be growling with hunger again. Protein and fat, on the other hand, are digested more slowly and will keep kidos full for hours.
Eggs, breakfast sausage, plain cottage cheese with fruit, plain full-fat greek yogurt with fruit, and grain-free granola with some fresh fruit and milk all fit this bill. If you’re tight on time in the mornings, I suggest batch-cooking a big, baked egg scramble (in a 13×9 pan) with veggies, cheese, and breakfast meat on Sunday to last all week (or egg muffins like these pictured below!).
3. Focus on savory for snack-time rather than sweet
Snacktime should about filling and satisfying little bellies to hold them over until the next meal. And sweet or carb-heavy treats like like pretzels, crackers, popcorn, cookies, ice pops, and even raisins and most granola bars are digested quickly.
Some healthy, satisfying snack-time options kids enjoy:
- Apple with a generous amount of unsweetened nut butter
- Full-fat cheese
- Veggies (carrots, celery, bell pepper, cucumber) and hummus
- Trail mix (be careful not to get one too loaded with dried fruit and candy! The majority should be nuts and seeds)
4. For sweet treats, go homemade (or as close as you can get!)
I know I know: being a parent is hard. There’s just so much to do (on top of, you know, maintaining your job and sanity) and I’m asking you to make homemade treats too? I must be kidding, right?
Well I’m most definitely very serious BUT (big but here) trust me when I tell you it doesn’t mean you need Betty Crocker to be your alter ego.
When it comes to store-bought desserts, looks for as few ingredients as possible in the ingredients list.
5. Satisfy sweet cravings with nature’s candy (i.e. fruit!)
Every child I’ve ever met has LOVED fresh fruit — blueberries, bananas, strawberries, clementines, melon. Naturally sweet and delicious, they’re basically a whole food dessert!
And here’s the thing: once you start cutting back on the amount of sugar in your child’s diet, naturally sweet foods are going to taste a whole lot more sweeter — a whole lot more like dessert.
Do you have any other tips for reducing kids’ sugar intake?
Please share with us in the comments below!
Sources and further reading:
- Healthline, Fruit Juice Is Just as Unhealthy as a Sugary Drink
- University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Sugar Science, How Much Is Too Much?
- CNN, Artificial sweeteners: Where do we stand?