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Safe ways to include sugar in you and your children’s diets

Sugar in Diet

Are You Sugar Savvy? Sugar is everywhere and we can't escape it. However, sugar is not as evil as the bad wrap it’s gotten, if you’re savvy about it. But let’s start with the facts.


Yes, it’s true that America’s sweet tooth has increased 39 percent over the past 50 years, meaning that today the average American consumes about three pounds of sugar each week – that’s 156 pounds a year. However, most of that sugar comes in liquid form from soda, energy drinks and sports drinks. These empty calories have been linked to increased risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

It’s not surprising that many parents have done a 180 – completely eliminating sugar from their kids’ diets. But that may not be the savvy move. Unfortunately, elimination may lead to children who grow up fixated on sugar and don’t learn the techniques to manage their cravings.

Luckily, there are safe ways to include sugar in you and your children’s diets without the guilt. Take this quiz to see how sugar savvy you are.

True or False About Sugar

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You can’t curb cravings with exercise and healthy snacking. FALSE! Walking for 15 minutes each day may help overweight people curb sugar cravings, according to a Health Magazine study. This is thought to work because walking provides cognitive stimulation, which can interfere with thoughts of cravings. Making sure to have healthy snacks on hand can help keep sugar cravings at bay too. Try a single serve container of protein-filled Greek yogurt or sliced carrots dipped in hummus.

All sugars are bad – natural or added. Another FALSE! Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods like fruit and milk, while added sugars are literally added to foods and beverages during processing or preparation. Unlike the empty calories in foods with added sugars, naturally occurring sugars have the benefit of being part of a natural, whole food that has vitamins, proteins and other important nutrients. Dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese, are the leading source of calcium in the American diet and contain a natural sugar called lactose. It’s good to remember that those who are sensitive to lactose can enjoy all the health benefits dairy has to offer by choosing lactose-free dairy foods. It is real dairy - just minus the lactose

Sugar can boost overall nutrition in a child’s diet. Ding, ding, ding – TRUE! The American Academy of Pediatrics supports the use of small amounts of sugar to improve the taste of kids’ food and therefore boost the amount of healthful food in their diet. If your child likes the way a nutrient-rich food tastes, they may eat more of it – so that’s a good thing! For example, flavored milk is filled with Vitamin D and calcium for bone health, and that extra bit of sugar may make it more enjoyable.

There is little reason to completely eliminate sugar when it is found in many nutrient-rich, whole foods. Even added sugars are safe in small amounts. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories of added sugar per day for women and children and 150 calories for men – that’s about six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men.

For more tips and healthy snack recipes, visit southeastdairy.org.

By Laura Buxenbaum, M.P.H., R.D., L.D.N., Southeast Dairy Association