5 Ways to Kick Your Kid's Sugar Habit

girl chocolate sugarAs parents, we treat with ice cream, occasionally bribe with M&M's, and keep emergency Fruit Roll-Ups in the car. But the not-so-sweet truth is that 16 percent of a kid’s daily calories come from sugar, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while we usually point fingers at soda, over half of kids’ sugar intake comes from food.

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The American Heart Association recommends kids get no more than 100 calories of sugar each day. But CDC researchers found that even preschoolers are getting double that amount -- and as kids grow, so does their sugar consumption.

We know that too much sugar not only paves the way for obesity and diabetes, but can hamper our kids’ immune systems. So what’s a parent -- especially one with a sweet tooth of her own -- to do? Here, five surprisingly painless ways to ease off the sugar:

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  1. Read between the lines. Surprise! When you buy prepared foods, sugar isn’t always listed as sugar. “Manufacturers know that word is a turn-off, so they use countless different names including sucrose, dextrose, brown rice syrup, and corn sugar,” says Janet Brill, PhD, RD, a nutritionist based in Philadelphia. It makes no difference if it’s organic: Sugar is sugar. “And the higher up a sweetener is listed in the ingredients, the more of it there is,” Brill says. Compare brands before buying and choose one with fewer grams of sugar per serving.
  2. Clean out your pantry. Naturally occurring sugar, like you find in, say, a banana or a glass of milk, isn’t what has health experts in an uproar. “Added sugar is the villain,” explains Brill. “It lurks in tons of processed foods that aren’t even sweet.” Soup, salad dressing, frozen dinners, pasta sauce, and even condiments are all hidden sources of sugar. (For instance, just 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains about 4 grams, or 1 teaspoon, of sugar.) When you can, make foods from scratch or look for reduced-sugar varieties.
  3. Slash serving sizes. The recommended portion you see listed on every bag of pretzels and cookies is for adults, not kids. To cut back on your little one’s sugar intake, “simply cut that recommended size in half,” suggests Torey Jones Armul, RD, a Chicago-based spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Then fill out their snack with healthier fruits and veggies.”
  4. Beware cereals that provide “11 essential vitamins and minerals.” According to Consumer Reports, cereals that use this tag line as their selling point are the brands most likely to be high in sugar. To wean your family off the sweet stuff, start by mixing half a bowl with a healthier brand that contains no more than 6 grams of sugar per serving. (Two good options: Cheerios and Rice Krispies.)
  5. Don’t confuse “natural” with “low in sugar.” Granola bars should be the epitome of a go-to healthy snack, “but some chocolate and marshmallow flavors make them more like candy bars,” says Armul. Skip bars drizzled with toppings in favor of those containing visible oats, nuts, and seeds. “Natural” fruit smoothies are another sneaky source of sugar, since they can be gunked up with flavored yogurt and additional sweeteners. “Order smoothies with just fruit and veggies, crushed ice, and a small amount of Greek yogurt or skim milk for protein,” Armul says. And when it comes to yogurt, forego flavored for plain and let your child add honey or maple syrup to taste. “There’s no need to cut back on all sugar,” says Brill. "The goal is to control how much you’re eating."

How do you limit sugar in your home?

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