Sugar overload?


By Christine Palumbo


'Honey." "Sweetie." "Sugar." They're all terms of endearment for the people we love. Yet when it comes time to eat, we feel guilty about serving sweets.

If it seems that children eat a lot of sugar, they do. They slurp it in soft drinks and sweetened fruit drinks and gobble it in yogurts, candy, cookies and commercial smoothies.

But, surprisingly, consumption of added sugars is decreasing for people age 2 and over, according to data published in the September 2011 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Why? It's mainly because we're drinking less soda. The sugars in energy drinks, however, are increasing.

Why do kids crave sweets?

It's for the survival of the species! If you nursed a baby, did you ever taste your milk? It is sweet. Mother Nature created baby's first food to taste wonderful to ensure baby would like it and thrive. Also, naturally occurring sweet foods, such as berries, grapes, apples, plums and other fruit, are rich in nutrients.

Finally, it may be a combination of learned desire for sweets and a genetic predisposition, according to New York City-based dietitian Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, founder of Nutritioulicious. "Some studies have shown a genetic predisposition for sweets based on the mother's diet while the baby is in utero. However, what a child is fed and the food he is exposed to once he is born has a large impact on the flavors he will desire as he gets older."

Sneaky sugars

Parents know when to limit the obvious sugar sources-candy, cookies and other sweet treats. But there are plenty of so-called healthy items that contain sugar: Granola bars, sports drinks, ketchup, salad dressings, cereals, pasta sauce, tomato soup and smoothies.

Here's a tip on how to determine the amount of sugar in a food or drink. Take the amount of sugar in grams, divide by four and you have the number of teaspoons of sugar in a serving. Then be sure to multiply the serving size by the number of servings your child actually consumes.

You may be confused by the amount of sugar listed on a label. For example, it may seem that a cup of milk is high in sugar because it has 12 grams. "That is the natural sugar found in milk. It's important to read the ingredients on food packages to see whether there is added sugar in the food," Levinson says.

Better for you sweets

It's not uncommon to have one child in a family with a sweet tooth and another without. How to handle the one with the sweet tooth? Try fruit. "Fruit is a naturally sweet food and most children don't get enough servings of fruit per day, so it's a great option when kids want a sweet snack," recommends Levinson, whose new recipe book for children is We Can Cook.

But for those whose day simply isn't complete without a sweet treat?

"There is nothing wrong with children having sweetened foods like cookies or cake in moderation. The key is watching how much a child is having and limiting the 'treats' to a small portion no more than once a day," she says.

Finally, a little honey or real maple syrup can offer sweetness with a bit of nutrition. Both have small amounts of naturally occurring antioxidants. In fact, a study reported at the 2011 American Chemical Society meeting found polyphenols in maple syrup.

Keep in mind that any sugar should be brushed away (or rinsed if a toothbrush is not available) to reduce risk of caries.

Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a Naperville-based dietitian and a mother of three. She in on faculty at Benedictine University in Lisle. She can be reached at


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