A new statement from the American Heart Association this week, recommends reducing intake of sugar for children. Specifically, it recommends:
- Children ages 2 to 18 should consume less than six teaspoons (25g) of added sugars per day.
- Children and teens should limit their intake of sugar-sweetened drinks to no more than eight ounces weekly (240mls).
- Children under the age of 2 years should not consume foods or beverages with added sugars, including sugar-sweetened drinks.
These recommendations echo similar guidelines from WHO and SACN in 2015. These reports have found that consuming food and drinks high in added sugars in childhood can increase the risk of developing obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity-related cancers, and dental caries.
The recommendations refer to “added sugars” or “free sugars”. This means any sugar (including glucose, fructose, table sugar, honey, agave; see here for a more extensive list) added to food and drinks, as well as those naturally present in honey, syrup, and unsweetened fruit juices. It does not include sugars naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables. It does not include naturally occurring milk sugar or lactose.
It is important that children do not consume excessive amounts of added sugars. Rather than counting teaspoons or grams of sugar, start by checking these key areas:
- Drinks: Milk and water are the best drinks for children. Avoid all sugar sweetened drinks such as soft drinks, sodas, cordials, energy drinks and sports drinks, and minimise the use of fruit juice. The sugar-free versions of these should also be avoided as they are acidic and can promote tooth decay.
- Food choices: Choose whole or minimally processed foods most often. For example, healthy snacks options include fruits, vegetables sticks, popcorn, nuts, yoghurt. See here for more ideas.
- Label reading: Get familiar with reading food labels. Ingredients are usually listed in order of volume. If sugar (by any name) appears as one of the first few ingredients, it is likely a high sugar food. Also look at the nutritional composition per 100g. According to the UK Food Standards Agency, a food with more than 22.5g of sugars per 100g is a high sugar food. A food with less than 5g of sugars per 100g is a low sugar food.
In summary, a good strategy for limiting added sugars is a diet rich in minimally-processed foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins, and healthy fats, and choosing water over sugary drinks and juices.