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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 may still be lurking inside some health-based foods. Beyond the label-inspection at home, do you know how much sugar your child could be consuming during the day? At school or daycare, sharing parts of one’s lunch is normal cafeteria behavior, and part of a healthy socializing experience. You can’t control everything your child snacks on, but you can make them more aware of concerns you may have about sugar to encourage them to make their own healthy decisions.

Social Media Sugar Ads

According to recent studies surrounding the influence of social media marketing, targeted ads on social media expose children to food marketing about 30 times per week: Adolescents were exposed to food marketing about 189 times per week. [1] The following trends were observed in these studies of social media food marketing 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 certain food items. These findings suggest food and drink brands may cater their advertising to adolescents on social media by using famous personalities to market certain food choices. [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. When brands promote products high in sugar, salt, and fat on social media platforms, it can increase the concern of some long-term health conditions.

Even organic granola bars and packaged snacks can contain high amounts of refined sugars and refined carbohydrates, even if some of these products are marketed as “healthy,” “natural,” or “gluten-free.” One recent study found that 28% of American adolescents may develop prediabetes. [3

Face the Sweet Facts

Of course, kids will be kids, and kids love sugar – but do we always know what’s inside our food?

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 encourage them to make healthy food choices on their own. 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.

How Much Sugar Do Children Eat?

It doesn’t take much digging to quickly learn that the Standard American Diet (SAD) could contain some refined sugar from processed foods and beverages: Soda, snack foods, cereal, yogurt, ice cream, pastries, bread, and even condiments like salad dressing could be sources of these added sugars.

How much sugar do children usually eat on an average day?

A Day in the Life

So how much sugar does the average child eat? To illustrate this point further, we should take a look at a day in the life of an average child and the food they eat. To narrow our focus, some children eat 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 adds up to about 126 grams of sugar. 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 are the concerns with this amount of sugar in a child’s diet?

The Potential Impact of Sugar on a Child’s Health

When it comes to health, sugar may impact children in much the same way as it does adults. The concern with high sugar intake is the potential for developing some long-term health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, and some inflammatory conditions like asthma and acne. [4] Processed sugar in large quantities can affect digestive health as well, possibly altering the gut microbiome and gut function: In fact, a recent study also found that sugar-containing beverage consumption in children could be linked with higher cardiometabolic risk scores and some elevated triglyceride levels. [5]

High amounts of sugar over time may also set children up for an energy roller coaster. After a “sugar high” comes the dreaded sugar low, which is commonly referred to as an “energy crash”. These ups and downs could contribute to some behavioral issues, some difficulty with concentrating, fatigue, and some sleep disruptions. 

Blood sugar balance is key for staying mentally sharp and physically energized throughout childhood. Balanced blood sugar is supported by limiting the quantity of refined sugars in the diet and eating plenty of protein, healthy fats, and lots of fiber-rich vegetables to promote the glycemic response.

Supporting a Child’s Healthy Food Choices is Possible!

Supporting a child’s sugar intake ultimately contributes to the greater goal of promoting overall health and wellness for the child. For most people, inflammation may not be caused by one factor but several contributing factors, such as food allergies, stress, illnesses, yeast, mold, or exposures to some environmental toxins. However, one possible factor affecting inflammation could be high amounts of sugar in a person’s diet over a long period of time, which can lead to an 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 nutritious and unprocessed foods. 

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 of low-or-zero sugar dark 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 contains only 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 Implement at Home

There is no perfect way to completely limit sugar all the time. The important thing is to start somewhere! Start with small, simple steps: As your family adjusts to less processed sugars, continue taking additional steps from there.

Start Somewhere:

  • Read labels closely and carefully. Read every label and look for hidden sources of refined sugars in store-bought products. Be mindful of alternative names for refined sugar as well (see our list below). 
  • Try to avoid sweetened beverages at home. Reserve sweetened beverages for special occasions or outings. 
  • 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 stevia, monk fruit, honey, or fruit purees.
  • Try to reduce refined carbohydrates. 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. At home, you’re able to control the quality, quantity, and frequency of added sweeteners.
  • When your child does eat refined sugar, ensure it is accompanied by a balanced meal that includes protein and fat. Eating sugar alone contribute to a sugar high followed by a low. Once the body experiences this low, it will demand more sugar, which might keep the cycle going. 
  • Offer your child fresh fruit to satisfy their sweet tooth.

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, contributing to other long-term health concerns. 

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

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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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