Where Is Sugar Hiding in Your Kids’ Food?

Soda and candy are packed full of sugar — we know this. But what everyday foods are also sugar culprits? Do you really know how much sugar is hiding in the foods your kids eat?

There are more than 50 names for sugar and you can spot many of them on the labels of soup, granola bars and bread: Sucrose, Maltose, Dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, cane juice, Dextrin, brown sugar, malt syrup, Galactose. And these are just a few.

One can of classic tomato soup with the red and white label has 20 grams of sugar — the same amount as two donuts! Those granola bars your daughter downs after school have 12 grams of sugar — the equivalent of three teaspoons or a bowl of Frosted Flakes cereal. And yogurt, which can look and taste like a very healthy side dish, can rack up as much sugar as a Snickers bar.

Why is this a big deal?

Too much sugar leads to weight gain. And since one in three children, about 10 in every classroom in this country, are overweight and face a lifetime of health issues, we need to take our family’s foods very seriously.

Parents must be educated consumers who can outsmart sneaky food manufacturers by reading labels, knowing the names of added sugars and being aware of which snacks targeted at kids are full of unhealthy ingredients.  If you wouldn’t dare pack two donuts in your child’s lunch box, it’s time to stop tossing in supposedly healthy snacks that have the same sugar content.

How much sugar is OK?

Experts suggest that kids consume no more than 4-6 teaspoons of added sugar per day. This adds up fast, so try to avoid added sugar as much as possible.  The average teenagers consume 34 teaspoons of sugar a day! Teach your kids how to read the food labels to recognize the added sugar in their seemingly healthy foods, then look for a better choice.

Added sugars are only identified in the ingredient list on the bottom of the food label, so you have to read closely. If sugar (or one of the many synonyms) is listed in the first three ingredients, put it back on the shelf!

With your kids, come up with a list of alternatives to all those easy snacks you’ve been packing in their lunch boxes. See if together you can make funny faces out of fruit slices as an after-school refuel (Pinterest has some great ideas and recipes, like these) and make it a project to taste-test healthier treats.

With a little more label detective work and creativity, you can stop sugar from sneaking its way into your diet or into your children’s lunch boxes.

Published on: September 19, 2014
About the Author
Photo of Thea Runyan MPH
Thea Runyan, MPH is the Lead Behavior Coach for the Pediatric Weight Control Clinic at Stanford Children’s Hospital and cofounder of Kurbo Health, the first mobile, scalable weight management solution for kids, teens, and families. To learn more about Kurbo, please visit Kurbo.com.
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