When our grandparents and great-grandparents were teenagers, warnings about eating too much sugar were mainly associated with dental cavities. They grew up thinking that fat made people fat, and that sugar was a relatively harmless treat to be eaten in moderation. Most meals were homemade, prepared from whole, natural ingredients. A slice of pound cake after church was perfectly normal and was not accompanied by guilt or followed by an extra half hour in the gym. Sugar was purposely added into desserts, dressings, yogurt, and other foods.
The story in America is very different today. We eat thirty times more sugar than our ancestors did only 200 years ago.
According to the USDA, teenagers aged 12-19 have the highest sugar intake at 137.4 pounds a year. That translates to 275 cups of sugar per year (one pound of sugar is equivalent to 2 cups), or ¾ cup of sugar per day!
Teenage boys consume more sugar than girls – over a cup a day-and surprisingly, adult males consume 38% more sugar than adult females. The problem isn’t just the bevy of treats and soft drinks that children love (one can of soda alone has almost half a cup of sugar), but the concealed sources all over the supermarket. If you read labels carefully, you’ll find sugar in ready-to-eat cereals, ketchup, milk products, canned foods, fruit-bottomed yogurt, salad dressings, crackers, breads, even toothpaste.
The Nutrition Facts panel on a food labels provides some (although rather misleading) information about a food’s sugar content. Labels indicate three numbers reflecting carbohydrate values, all measured in grams:
- Total Carbohydrate (which includes various types of carbohydrates including dietary fibers, simple sugars, and other carbohydrates
- Dietary Fiber (the more fiber, the healthier the product)
- Sugars (unfortunately, this value does not differentiate between natural and added sugars)
One gram of carbohydrate provides 4 calories per gram. In a product providing 140 calories per serving and 20 grams of carbohydrate, 80 of the 140 calories are carbohydrates (sugar).
To identify added sugars, you must read the list of ingredients. Sugar has many forms: high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, and words ending in “ose” (glucose, dextrose, fructose, maltose, sucrose). It is important to read food labels carefully to clarify whether a product has hidden sources of sugar. The following is a list of products that may be contributing to your child’s weight gain.
|McDonald's French Fries||Medium||47 grams||10 teaspoons|
|Coca Cola Classic||1 can (12oz)||40 grams||9 teaspoons|
|Welch's Grape Juice||1 cup (8oz)||40 grams||9 teaspoons|
|Mar's Bar||51 g bar||30 grams||6 teaspoons|
|Chocolate Milk||1 cup (8oz)||30 grams||6 teaspoons|
|Yoplait Kids||8oz||26 grams||5.5 teaspoons|
|White Bread||1 slice||12.7 grams||3 teaspoons|
|Corn Pops||1 serving||12 grams||3 teaspoons|
|Newman’s Own Marinara Spaghetti Sauce||1/2 cup||11 grams||3 teaspoons|
|Vanilla Silk Soy Milk||1 cup (8oz)||10 grams||2 teaspoons|
|Lender’s Fresh Blueberry Bagel||1 bagel||9 grams||<2 teaspoons|
|Frozen Pizza||2 slices||5 grams||1 teaspoon|
|Wheat Thins||16 crackers||4 grams||< 1 teaspoon|
|Hunt's Ketchup||1 Tbsp||4 grams||< 1 teaspoon|
To reduce your child’s sugar intake replace sugary snacks and foods with healthier alternatives:
- Replace soda and fruit juices with water or fresh-pressed vegetable juice. Add a splash of natural juice to water for flavor.
- Add fruit to sweeten natural whole grain cereals.
- Replace white bread with natural whole grain or sprouted bread.
- Trade saltine crackers for natural whole grain crackers.
- Substitute fruit leather snacks with carrots and celery or real fruit.
Healthy doesn’t have to mean bland. A healthy meal or snack will leave your child feeling full and energized rather than experiencing the highs and lows of sugar.
USDA (2005). Retrived from: