Posts Tagged ‘ sugar ’

The Truth About Kids and Added Sugars

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

If you believe everything you read about added sugars, you’ll be convinced they’re toxic time bombs just waiting to kill us all. So don’t believe everything you read. The truth is that sugar is not a poisonous substance. Your child can have a cookie without risking his life. Yet it’s also true that most people (especially most kids) are getting too much of it–and that a high-sugar diet isn’t good for health.

But what exactly, does “too much” mean? I talk to a lot of parents who are concerned about sugar, shocked that a can of soda contains nearly 10 teaspoons of the stuff, but really don’t know what that means in the grand scheme of things.

For starters, remember that ADDED sugars are what health experts are worried about. That’s the kind put in by manufacturers or by you at home. It’s NOT the natural kind found in fruit and dairy. (Ever noticed that plain yogurt or milk still has sugar? That’s natural.) Unfortunately, the nutrition facts label doesn’t distinguish between added and natural (yet!) but you can still use this label-reading trick: Every 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon. So candy with 8 grams of sugar per serving has the equivalent of two teaspoons of sugar.

Though there’s no Daily Value for added sugars, word is that the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans will likely suggest no more than 10 percent of calories should come from it. For kids, that looks like this:

  • Children ages 2-3: No more than 100 calories from added sugar (about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams)
  • Children ages 4-8: No more than 120-140 calories from added sugar (about 7-8 teaspoons or 28-32 grams)

That sounds like an awful lot—until you consider how much is actually in foods and drinks:

  • Sheet of graham crackers: 1 tsp
  • Chocolate chip granola bar: 1 tsp
  • Small bowl of honey-flavored “o” cereal: 2 tsp
  • Package of gummy fruit snacks: 2.5 tsp
  • Packet of peach-flavored instant oatmeal: 3 tsp
  • Pouch of fruit punch: 3 tsp
  • Cup of sports drink: 3.5 tsp
  • 2 tablespoons chocolate hazelnut spread: 5 tsp
  • Chocolate cupcake with frosting: 9 tsp

Suddenly, the recommendations start to look a little tough. Have a day with a birthday party, soccer game snack, and a lollipop at the bank, and they look downright impossible.

So here’s my advice: Though it’s important to be aware and look at nutrition labels for sugar content, obsessing over numbers or counting up sugar grams for the day is no way to live. Instead, think big picture. What foods and drinks are providing the most sugar for your family—and is there a way to reduce that?

For instance, mix plain yogurt with flavored. Ditto for chocolate milk and regular milk. Designate a couple of “dessert nights” each week instead of serving it every day. Stop buying soda or buy it only occasionally. Cutting back on sweetened beverages in general can go a long way in reducing intake. The bottom line is that while there’s no need to cut it out completely, little moves like these can add up to less sugar for everyone.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid

Image: Spoon of sugar via Shutterstock

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Are You Making These Mistakes With Summertime Drinks?

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

When the temperature rises, it’s natural to guzzle down extra drinks. It’s definitely important to keep yourself and your kids hydrated—and tall glasses of lemonade and iced tea are summertime rituals I don’t begrudge anyone (we enjoy them too!). But the truth is, beverages can also be sources of extra calories, sugar, and caffeine that kids just don’t need. Be sure you’re not making these common mistakes:

Too much sugar.

Between all the sweet drinks, it’s easy to gulp down tons of extra sugar in the summertime. Though kids should ideally only get about 5-8 teaspoons of added sugar a day, a small fountain lemonade or sweet tea each contain more than an entire day’s worth (about 9 teaspoons). There’s also evidence that kids who drink a lot of sweetened beverages may be at higher risk for overweight and obesity. Sweet drinks are fine occasionally, but be careful that your kids aren’t sipping them all day long (which is also crummy for teeth). In our house, we try to stick with a one-sweet-drink-per-day policy. And because they get sugary beverages so many places outside the home—like camp, restaurants, and parties—we tend not to keep them in the house.

Too many sports drinks.

There’s a common misconception that any kid breaking a sweat needs a sports drink, especially in the summer. Though it’s true that some athletes may need them for extended exercise or intense heat (read more about that here), water is adequate hydration in many cases, especially for children who are simply practicing an hour of sports or playing in the backyard. Despite the marketing hype, know this: Electrolytes aren’t special, magical ingredients only found in sports drinks. They’re simply sodium and potassium, which are easily found in foods like crackers, bananas, and yogurt.

Too much caffeine.

Your kids probably don’t drink coffee, but they may sip soda, iced tea, and even those whipped-cream-topped slushies at coffee shops. Caffeine can interfere with children’s sleep, worsen anxiety, and even mess with moods. So steer clear of energy drinks completely, and be aware of how many other caffeinated beverages your child gets. According to guidelines from Health Canada, a child age 4-6 should get no more than 45mg per day (the amount of caffeine in one can of soda) and kids ages 7-9 no more than 62.5mg (one and a half cans of soda). A bottle of iced tea can pack up to 40mg, and a small caramel coffee slushie has 70mg.

Too much milk.

Yes, even with a beverage that’s loaded with nutrients kids need—like calcium and potassium—more is not necessarily better. According to the USDA, children ages 2-3 need two cups of dairy per day (or fortified non-dairy) and kids 4-8 need two and a half. Yet I talk to parents whose kids gulp milk all day long. What’s the problem with that? Too much milk can spoil their appetites for food. And since milk is iron-poor, it’s possible for kids to become low in iron because they’re drinking too much milk and not eating enough iron-rich food. Read more here.

Above all, encourage everyone in the family to get lots of water. I know that not all kids and grown-ups are fans of plain water (my seven year old included—and in all honesty, me!) but don’t give up. Here are some tips:

  • Serve water when kids are really thirsty. It’s truly the best thirst-quencher and kids will start associating water with relief from thirst. Keep a pitcher of water or frosty water bottles on hand when your kids are playing outside and pack water for outings. Have your kids pick out a special water bottle or straw if that helps.
  • Consider carbonated water. I don’t think kids should always expect bubbly water, since it could turn into a soda habit. But an occasional glass of carbonated water, even with a splash of juice, is a fun break from the ordinary.
  • Freeze cubes of 100 percent juice and occasionally put one in a cup of ice water. It will add a little bit of flavor and color but not lots of sugar.

Got any great tricks for encouraging plain water? I’d love to hear them.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid

Image: Variety of drinks via Shutterstock

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Why I’m Okay With Chocolate Milk

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

There are few issues as hot-button as chocolate milk when it comes to school food. Kids love it. But some parents don’t—and those who don’t REALLY don’t. In fact, some have petitioned to have flavored milk removed from their children’s school completely.

As a parent (and a registered dietitian), I understand the concerns about flavored milk, namely the extra sugar it provides. But I just don’t think it deserves its bad reputation. Though I get fired up about birthday cupcakes in the classroom and candy valentines, I’m actually okay with chocolate milk in the lunch line. Here’s why:

1. The sugar content is greatly exaggerated. About half of the sugar in flavored milk is natural milk sugar. I cringe when I see people comparing a carton of chocolate milk (about three teaspoons of added sugar in a standard school milk carton) to a can of soda (almost 10 teaspoons of added sugar in a standard can) because it’s simply not accurate. And if we’re going to get outraged about the added sugar in chocolate milk, we should also get outraged about the added sugar in lunchbox staples like fruit snacks (2.5 teaspoons of added sugar), granola bars (2 teaspoons), and juice pouches (4 teaspoons)—but for some reason, those often get a pass as being “healthy”. (Ideally, kids should have no more than 5-8 teaspoons of added sugar per day.)

2. It’s loaded with nutrients kids need. Those comparisons between chocolate milk and soda? Hardly. While soda is a nearly void of nutrients (besides carbohydrates from sugar), a carton of flavored milk has all the same nutrients as white milk, including calcium, vitamin D, protein, and potassium.

3. There are bigger fish to fry. The lunch menu at my child’s school is dominated by chicken patties, hot dogs, and pizza that arrive at the school in plastic-covered trays. I would love to see fresher, healthier foods in schools—and I’d much rather have my child wash down a healthy whole-foods-based lunch with chocolate milk than eat a breaded chicken patty sandwich out of a plastic bag with a carton of white milk.

But balance is also important. So if your child’s school serves flavored milk, here’s my advice:

  • Talk to your kids about the sugar in flavored milk. Make sure they understand that foods and drinks with extra sugar should be a much smaller part of their diet than unsweetened foods—even if that sugar is in otherwise wholesome foods and drinks like milk. So if they’re choosing flavored milk in the lunch line, don’t pack a sweet treat in their lunchboxes.
  • Be sure your child has lots of access to water at school meals too. Pack a water bottle in their lunch bag or talk to the school about making water more available at lunchtime.
  • Stock white milk at home and limit other sweet drinks like juice, sports drinks, and punches. Sugar in beverages can add up quickly.

What’s YOUR opinion about chocolate milk in schools?

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. She is the author ofCooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

Valentine's Day Treats: Strawberry Milk
Valentine's Day Treats: Strawberry Milk
Valentine's Day Treats: Strawberry Milk

Image: Glass of chocolate milk via Shutterstock

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Got Dessert-Obsessed Kids? This Solution Sounds Crazy–But It Works!

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

Are your kids fixated on dessert? Do they rush through dinner to get it? Does it drive you bonkers? If so, what I’m about to suggest may change your life—but it may also sound a little nuts at first: Start serving dessert with dinner. Put it on the table, alongside the peas and the chicken and the rice. Don’t make a big deal about it. Let your kids eat it whenever they want. (Will they eat it first? Probably. And that’s okay.)

Serving dessert with dinner comes from the playbook of dietitian Ellyn Satter, an expert on feeding kids and author of Child Of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense, among many other books about feeding. The idea is this: When dessert is taken down from its end-all-be-all pedestal—the grand finale of dinner, the good stuff you get after eating the yucky stuff—it becomes just another part of the meal. It loses its power, including as a bargaining tool (in other words, no more “two more bites of broccoli and you can have a cookie” negotiations!).

I’ll admit, I was a little nervous the first time I tried this several years ago. A neighbor had brought over frosted cupcakes, and as we sat down for dinner, those cupcakes were all my kids could talk about. So I decided to let everyone take a cupcake and put it on their dinner plates. What happened? My older son ate his first and continued on with dinner. My younger son took a bite, decided he didn’t like it, and ate his dinner.

This strategy also works well at parties and buffets, when sweets are often presented on the table along with the other foods. At a birthday party we attended, mini cupcakes were set on the buffet with the dinner foods. My kids each put a cupcake on their plates, ate it, then ate the rest of their food. Other parents spent a lot of time bargaining with their kids and insisting they had a certain number of bites of the dinner food before they could get a cupcake. Their kids were whining, the parents were aggravated (and I’m sure a few people were giving me the hairy eyeball for setting a bad example of eating cupcakes first). But ultimately, it was a much saner solution. My boys each had a cupcake, just like everyone else, but also ate other food too (and I wasn’t stuck at the kids’ table bickering with my children).

One caution with this approach: Make sure the portion of dessert isn’t so big that it wrecks their appetites. Give only one serving. For little kids, that might be one small cookie or a small scoop of ice cream. With my kids’ fresh haul of Easter candy, we’ve decided on two small pieces as a reasonable dessert, which they can have with their meal or after. It’s up to them.

Have you ever tried this approach? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

Snow Cone Cupcakes
Snow Cone Cupcakes
Snow Cone Cupcakes

Image: Kid focused on cupcake via Shutterstock

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Let’s Get Real About Fruit Snacks

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

Yfruit snacksou know that expression, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck”? That’s how I feel about fruit snacks.

Why am I comparing fruit snacks to ducks? Because thanks to clever packaging and slick marketing, they’ve weaseled their way into cupboards and lunchboxes everywhere under the guise of being fruit (and a perfectly acceptable snack). When in reality, fruit snacks are candy.

Here’s the ingredient list for a popular brand of fruit snacks: Corn syrup, Sugar, Apple Puree Concentrate, Water, Modified Corn Starch, Gelatin, Contains 2% or less of Citric Acid, Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), Natural and Artificial Flavors, Yellow 5, Red 40, Sodium Citrate, Blue 1.

Here’s the ingredient list for Gummy Bears: Corn Syrup, Sugar, Gelatin, Dextrose, Citric Acid, Corn Starch, Artificial and Natural Flavors, Fractionated Coconut Oil, Carnauba Wax, Beeswax Coating, Artificial Colors Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1.

Both contain artificial flavors, preservatives, and artificial food dyes. Both have corn syrup and sugar as the first two ingredients (in other words, the ingredients in the largest quantities). One pouch contains the equivalent of two and half teaspoons of sugar. That’s more than half a kid’s healthy sugar limit for an entire day. Quack!

The differences? Fruit snacks usually have added vitamin C, sometimes a whole day’s worth. Sounds great on paper, but a five year old can get a day’s worth of C in three strawberries. Or a fourth of an orange. They do contain some fruit juice concentrate or fruit puree concentrate, but the amounts and nutritional value are too small to be meaningful (and concentrates are typically used as added sweeteners anyway).

Boxes are splashed with claims like “Made with real fruit!” and decorated with pictures of fresh berries, but they don’t contain the nutrition (especially the fiber) of real fruit. They don’t look, feel, or taste like real fruit. Eating these gummies won’t teach kids to like fruit—but it does teach them that candy is a snack. What else worries me: Kids’ teeth. Like any kind of sticky, sugary food, fruit snacks can cling to the teeth and cause decay.

I’m not trying to be the fruit snack police here—and believe me, my boys like them as much as the next kid. But it’s important to think of them as what they are—fruit-flavored gummy candy—and make sure kids know that too. If you buy them, I’d recommend choosing one without artificial food dyes (read: The Food Dye Blues) and having your child drink or swish with water after eating them. But above all, be sure real fruit shows up at snacktime and in lunchboxes—and fruit snacks are treated just like cookies, candy, or any other kind of dessert in your house.

Get recipes for fun, healthy snacks filled with real fruit and vegetables!

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Indy 500 Fruit Racers
Indy 500 Fruit Racers
Indy 500 Fruit Racers

Image via Shutterstock

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