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Carbohydrates, Sugar and Your Child - Part 2

Sizing Up Sugar

Foods that are high in added sugar (soda, cookies, cake, candy, frozen desserts, and some fruit drinks) tend to also be high in calories and low in other valuable nutrients. As a result, a high-sugar diet is often linked with obesity. Eating too many sugary foods can also lead to tooth decay.

The key to keeping sugar consumption in check is moderation. Added sugar can enhance the taste of some foods, and a little sugar, particularly if it's in a food that provides other important nutrients, such as cereal or yogurt, isn't going to tip the scale or send your child to the dentist.

Instead of serving foods that are low in nutrients and high in added sugar, offer healthier choices, such as fruit — a naturally sweet carbohydrate-containing snack that also provides fiber and vitamins that kids need.

One way to cut down on added sugar is to eliminate soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, which can cause erosion of tooth enamel from the acidity and dental cavities (or caries) from the high sugar content. And consider these statistics:

  • Each 12-ounce (355-milliliter) serving of a carbonated, sweetened soft drink contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons (49 milliliters) of sugar and 150 calories. Sweetened drinks are the largest source of added sugar in the daily diets of U.S. children.
  • Consuming one 12-ounce (355-milliliter) sweetened soft drink per day increases a child's risk of obesity.

Instead of soda or juice drinks (which often contain as much added sugar as soft drinks), serve low-fat milk, water, or 100% fruit juice.

Although there's no added sugar in 100% fruit juice, the calories from the natural sugars found in fruit juice can add up. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting juice intake to 4-6 ounces (118-177 milliliters) for kids under 7 years old, and no more than 8-12 ounces (237-355 milliliters) of juice for older kids and teens.

Figuring Out Carbs and Sugar

It isn't always easy to tell which foods are good choices and which aren't just by looking at the labels. To figure out carbohydrates, look under Nutrition Facts on food labels, where you'll find three numbers for total carbohydrate: the total number of carbohydrates, the amount of dietary fiber, and sugars.

  • Total Carbohydrate: This number, listed in grams, combines several types of carbohydrates: dietary fibers, sugars, and other carbs.
  • Dietary Fiber: Listed under Total Carbohydrate, dietary fiber itself has no calories and is a necessary part of a healthy diet. A high-fiber diet promotes bowel regularity and can help reduce cholesterol levels.
  • Sugars: Also listed under Total Carbohydrate on food labels, sugars are found in most foods. However, the Nutrition Facts label doesn't make the distinction between natural sugars and added sugars. Natural sugars are found in many foods, including fruit and dairy products. Snack foods, candy, and soda often have large amounts of added sugars. To find out if a food has added sugar, you need to look at the ingredient list for sugar, corn syrup or sweetener, dextrose, fructose, honey, or molasses, to name just a few. Avoid products that have sugar or other sweeteners high on the ingredient list.

Although carbohydrates have just 4 calories per gram, the high sugar content in snack foods means the calories can add up quickly, and these "empty calories" usually contain few other nutrients.

Making Carbs Part of a Healthy Diet

Ensuring that kids get a balanced, nutritious diet isn't as hard as it may seem. Simply make good carbohydrate choices (whole grains, fruits, veggies, and low-fat milk and dairy products), stock your home with healthy choices, limit foods containing added sugar (especially those with little or no nutritional value), and encourage kids to be active every day.

Above all, be a good role model. Kids will see your wholesome habits and adopt them, leading to a healthier lifestyle throughout childhood and into adulthood.

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