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You may be in control of the grocery list at home, but you can’t be in control of every food item available to your child throughout the day. Try as you might to feed your child the most nutritious foods, hidden sugars still lurk inside those sneaky-sweet “health” foods. Beyond the label-inspection at home, do you know how much sugar your child eats when not in your care? Their lunchbox may contain nutritious foods, but is that all your child is eating at lunch or snack time? At school or daycare, haggling for another child’s cookies or candy is normal cafeteria behavior. You can’t control everything your child snacks on, but you can make them more aware of the blatant sugar marketing they’re exposed to every day.

Social Media Sugar-Zombies

According to recent studies surrounding the influence of social media marketing, targeted ads on social media expose children to food marketing 30 times per week: Adolescents were exposed to food marketing about 189 times per week .[1] Two concerning trends were found in these studies examining social media marketing of food and beverages to children and teenagers:

  1. Children who participated in the study were more likely to remember ads for unhealthy foods and beverages than health-based products. [2]
  2. Celebrities and influencers were often used to promote these unhealthy food items. These findings suggest food and drink brands strategically target adolescents on social media, frequently using famous personalities to market nutritionally poor offerings. [1][2

Every day, 90% of adolescents are on social media.

On a daily basis, our children receive countless marketing messages from the food industry promoting unhealthy foods that are so heavily processed they rarely resemble real food at all. When brands promote products high in sugar, salt, and fat on social media platforms, it can increase the risk of children developing long-term health conditions such as a lowered immune system, fatty liver conditions, obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

Even organic granola bars and packaged snacks can contain high amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates, though marketed as “healthy,” “natural,” or “gluten-free.” One recent study found that 28% of American adolescents have prediabetes. [3

Face the Not-so-Sweet Facts

How can all of us parents even begin to thwart this possible future for our own children? The first step is being prepared to face the truth about what our kids eat when we’re not around, and just how much sugar we inadvertently feed them during the day. This is not a blame game: Of course, kids will be kids, and kids love sugar – but do we know the truth about the foods we feed our children, let alone ourselves?

Be willing to arm yourself with knowledge and hard facts, and then use those facts to change your family’s diet – not to mention, your family’s health. Use these hard facts to teach your children to be mindful of their own food choices, and how they feel after eating unhealthy foods. Model these behaviors for them, and it will hopefully inspire your children to make healthy decisions as they grow into adulthood because they want to: Not because you’re hovering, and not because you’re in charge of the grocery bill.

How Much Sugar Does Your Child Eat?

It doesn’t take much digging to quickly learn that the Standard American Diet (SAD) is laden with refined sugar from processed foods and beverages: Soda, snack foods, cereal, yogurt, ice cream, pastries, bread, and even condiments like salad dressing are sources of added sugar. Other inflammatory substances like gluten, dairy, low-quality oils, and hydrogenated fats make the Standard American Diet even more tragic.

Have you ever noticed how much sugar you eat in your day?

What about your children?  The amount may shock you.

A Day in the Life of a “Healthy Diet”

So how much sugar does an average child eat? To illustrate just how quickly sugar can add up, let’s take a look at a day in the life of an average child’s diet. To narrow our focus, let’s say this child eats relatively “healthy” meals, consisting of mostly organic foods, no soda, no candy, and limited dairy and gluten. 

An average day may look something like this:

Breakfast

  • 1 gluten-free waffle with butter and jam
  • 2 organic turkey sausage links
  • A small glass of orange juice

Snack

  • Carrots and celery with ranch dressing

Lunch

  • Sandwich with 2 slices of gluten-free bread, turkey, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise 
  • 1 applesauce cup
  • A handful of trail mix with dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate chips

Snack

  • 1 fruit and nut granola bar
  • A small glass of organic chocolate almond milk

Dinner

  • 1 organic hotdog or brat on a gluten-free bun with ketchup
  • A handful of homemade oven-baked fries
  • 1 ear of corn on the cob

Treat

  • ½ cup dairy-free ice cream

When you add up all the sugar in this average daily menu, it comes to a whopping 126 grams. To illustrate this amount, 126 grams of sugar would be the equivalent of:

  • Almost 5 Snickers bars;
  • Almost 4 cans of Coca-Cola;
  • Less than 2 cans of sweetened ice tea;
  • About 31 sugar cubes. 

What exactly is all this sugar doing to a child’s body?

The Impact of Sugar on a Child’s Health

When it comes to health effects, sugar impacts children in much the same way as it does adults. Metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease are linked to high sugar diets, as well as inflammatory conditions like asthma and acne. [4] Sugar negatively impacts digestive health, altering the gut microbiome and therefore gut function: In fact, a recent study also found that sugar-containing beverage consumption in children was linked with higher cardiometabolic risk scores and elevated triglycerides.[5]

Excessive consumption of sugar over time also sets children up for an energy roller coaster. After a “sugar high” comes the dreaded sugar low, which we commonly refer to as an energy crash. These ups and downs can lead to behavioral issues, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, hyperactivity, and disrupted sleep. 

Blood sugar balance is key for staying mentally sharp and physically energized throughout childhood. Balanced blood sugar is supported through limiting added sugar in the diet, including plenty of protein and healthy fats, and adding lots of fiber-rich vegetables that help to improve glycemic response.

Limiting Your Child’s Sugar Intake is Possible!

Reducing sugar ultimately contributes to the greater goal of reducing the overall inflammation in your child’s body. For most people, inflammation is not caused by one factor but many factors such as food allergies, pathogens, yeast, mold, or other toxic exposures. However, one of the most common contributing factors to inflammation is a high carb/sugar diet that keeps the body in a chronically-inflamed state, due to the constant elevation of insulin.

That’s why in our clinics one of the first steps we suggest patients take on their health restoration journey is to adopt a low-sugar diet that focuses on whole, real, unprocessed foods. 

In contrast to the sugar-laden daily diet above, a low-sugar diet based on unprocessed foods may look something like this:

Breakfast

  • 2 eggs scrambled in coconut oil
  • 2 organic turkey sausage links
  • ½ cup blueberries

Snack

Lunch

  • Lettuce wraps with chicken, guacamole, tomatoes, and shredded carrots
  • 1 applesauce cup
  • Handful of nuts mixed with 1 tablespoon Lily’s Chocolate Chips

Snack

  • Rice cake topped with almond butter, hemp seeds, and cinnamon

Dinner

Treat:

  • ½ cup thawed frozen cherries topped with coconut cream

This daily menu has 42 grams of sugar across the entire day, most of which is derived from fruits and vegetables. That’s 84 grams less than the other menu!

Practical Steps to Get the Sugar Out

There is no perfect way to go about reducing the amount of sugar your child eats. The important thing is to start somewhere! Start with small, simple steps: As your family adjusts to a sugar-reduced lifestyle, continue taking additional steps from there.

Start Somewhere:

  • Read labels closely and carefully. This is absolutely the most important step to take when it comes to sugar awareness. Read every label and look for sources of hidden sugar in all store-bought products. Be mindful of alternative names for sugar as well (see our list below). 
  • Don’t serve sugary beverages at home. Reserve high sugar beverages for very limited special occasions or outings only. Make your home a sugar-free beverage zone.
  • Prepare baked goods or treats from scratch instead of buying them. Preparing them yourself will give you control over the quality of ingredients used and the amount of sweeteners added. Look for recipes that use alternative sweeteners like xylitol, stevia, monk fruit, honey, or fruit purees.
  • Limit bread. An average slice of bread contains anywhere from 2-5 grams of sugar and 15-20 grams of carbohydrates, which can add up very quickly. Swap out bread for lettuce wraps, coconut flour tortillas, or other vegetable-based alternatives like collard leaves.
  • Eat more meals at home. Restaurants add sugar to nearly everything on their menu. At home you are able to control the quality, quantity, and frequency of added sweeteners.
  • When your child does eat sugar, ensure it is accompanied by a balanced meal that includes protein and fat. Eating sugar alone will likely cause a sugar high followed by a low. Once the body experiences this low, it will demand more sugar, which keeps the cycle going. 
  • Offer your child fresh fruit to satisfy their sweet tooth instead of cookies, candy, baked goods, or sugary beverages.

The Many Faces and Names of Sugar

When reading labels for added sugar, it’s important to know that sugar goes by many names. Here are the most common ingredient names to watch out for when reading labels:

Granulated sugar:

  • Sugar, cane sugar, cane juice, or cane juice crystals
  • Beet sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar or icing sugar)
  • Corn syrup solids
  • Demerara sugar
  • Dextrin
  • Ethyl maltol
  • Golden sugar
  • Maltodextrin
  • Turbinado sugar (or raw sugar)
  • Sucanat 

Liquid sugar:

  • Corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Carob syrup
  • Evaporated cane sugar
  • Fruit juice or fruit juice concentrate 
  • Malt syrup
  • Golden syrup
  • Caramel
  • Barley malt

Simple sugar:

  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • Maltose
  • Sucrose

Artificial sweeteners:

Artificial sweeteners can be even more harmful than regular sugar. To illustrate this point further, aspartame has been linked to conditions like diabetes, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and cancer. [6] 

Avoid these fake sugars:

  • Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Saccharin (Sweet’N Low, Sugar Twin)
  • Acesulfame K (Sunett)
  • Stevia with chemical fillers (Truvia) (pure stevia extract with no fillers is okay)

Educational Resources to Keep Yourself Informed:

Videos and Webinars:

Sugar Part 1: Is Sugar Bad for You? | A Different Perspective 
Sugar Part 2: What to Stay Away From | A Different Perspective
Sugar Part 3: Top 6 Alternative Sweeteners | A Different Perspective

Articles and Other Helpful Resources:

5 Common Benefits of Giving Up Sugar (and how to be successful at it!) | The Wellness Way
Sugar and its Bitter Aftertaste: How Overeating Sugar Can Ruin Your Quality of Life | The Wellness Way
Sweet Sugar Swaps: 5 Healthier Options | The Wellness Way

 

Originally Published on August 30, 2021
Updated and Republished on January 26, 2024

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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