If you’re a parent, you know kids love sweet foods. And you may know that studies show children are getting too much of a good thing. According to research in the newly published “Half the Sugar, All the Love: 100 Easy, Low-Sugar Recipes for Every Meal of the Day,” they’re getting at least three times the recommended daily limit.
I received a review copy of the book a few weeks ago and love the easy-to-grasp nutritional information, gorgeous food photography and delicious recipes I’ve tried. Co-authors Jennifer Tyler Lee and Anisha Patel give parents guidelines for becoming sugar detectives. Lee is a healthy- food advocate and award-winning cookbook author. Patel is associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford University and leader of Stanford’s pediatric sugar research program.
An analysis of national data published last month found 98% of toddlers and two-thirds of infants consume added sugars in their diets each day. The American Heart Association recommends children under age 2 not have access to any added sugars, which includes sweeteners that don’t occur naturally in food. That means stick to ripe fruit and fresh vegetables.
“The consumption of added sugars among children has been associated with negative health conditions such as cavities, asthma, obesity, elevated blood pressure and altered lipid profiles,” said lead investigator Kirsten Herrick, a program director at the Division of Cancer Control and Population Studies with the National Cancer Institute.
Sugar in children’s diets isn’t just coming from the in-your-face culprits like candy, soda and cookies. Added sugar is everywhere — in yogurt, bottled salad dressings, jarred tomato sauce, oatmeal packets, boxed mac and cheese, pre-sliced bread and even organic, “all-natural” packaged granola.
Here are some topics and tips from the book:
• Debunking sugar myths. For instance, honey is not healthier. It’s true that honey contains vitamins, minerals, proteins, antioxidants and micronutrients. However, according to the authors, “You would need to drink a cup of honey to reap those benefits.” They add that artificial sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda) and all-natural sweeteners like Stevia should be avoided.
• Finding added sugar ingredients in product labels. Examples include corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar syrup, cane crystals, cane sugar, crystalline fructose, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup solids and malt syrup. Then use the labels to compare similar products. For example, when searching for yogurt with the least amount of sugar, compare not only the ingredients but the nutritional numbers in plain yogurt with vanilla or other flavored yogurt.
• Using fruits and vegetables to sweeten meals naturally. The authors show easy ways to doing this rather than adding sugar. Dishes sweetened this way are flavorful and more filling because there’s fiber included, which slows down metabolism.
• Knowing your added sugar target. Everyone has a recommended maximum amount of added sugar that he or she should consume each day, based on age and gender. For children under 2, it’s zero teaspoons; children 2 to 18 years, 6 teaspoons; women 18 and older, 6 teaspoons; and men 18 and older, 9 teaspoons.
All 100 recipes in the book show the amount of added sugar per serving relative to a packaged product or a typical recipe, designated by a cube. Each cube is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar.
The bottom line is, cook more — and get kids involved with meal and snack preparation. That way, you can take control of what sweets are going into their mouths.