The holiday season is that fun time of the year where over-indulging tends to be acceptable (and encouraged). While that’s fun for a little while, many of us commit to “resetting” our health goals at the start of the new year because we know this type of lifestyle isn’t sustainable. But in reality, many of us are always over-indulging without realizing it, and what’s worse is we are setting a dangerous precedent for our children. Some of the food and beverages we regularly consume contain absurd amounts of sugar, and our children are having way more than the recommended daily dose. This coupled with sedentary lifestyles is creating some serious health issues for children nationwide, but how serious?
Keeping our children healthy requires monitoring sugar intake, making better food choices, and getting them physically active. While this seems simple enough, consider that for some families, this means making some major changes that might be difficult to stick to. This is not a temporary change, but a lifestyle change. Easing into a healthier lifestyle versus making drastic changes might help your family adjust to the commitment and stick to it. Starting off small, like monitoring sugar intake, might increase your chances of staying healthy all year. According to the American Heart Association, “Kids aged 2-18 should have less than 25 grams or 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily for a healthy heart.”* To put this into perspective, let’s examine foods and beverages they might consume regularly.
A child who is seemingly eating “healthy” might have a yogurt for breakfast, a juicebox with lunch, and sweetened applesauce as a snack which equals 67 grams of sugar and doesn’t include everything else they would consume in that same day. Some of these snacks alone exceed the daily recommended dose of sugar. Removing sugar altogether from your children’s diet might be difficult as it goes beyond limiting cookies, cakes, and pies. Large amounts of sugar can be found in everyday items like salad dressing and ketchup, or in foods thought to be “healthier” like yogurt and fruit juices. Making this big change in your life might require making smaller, but effective, changes here and there.
Here are some ways to make things sweet without all the added sugar:
• Swap juices and soft drinks for plain or sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice or use one or two 100% fruit juice ice cubes.
• Substitute unsweetened applesauce for sugar in recipes using equal amounts.
• Start making your own sauces (dressings, ketchup, etc…) to control the amount of sugar that goes into them.
• Feel like something sweet? Try a new fruit or fruit in a different form than usual- like baked, grilled, or stewed.
• Sweeten cereals and oatmeal with fruit.
• Use extracts (vanilla, caramel, etc…) in place of sweeteners.
• When baking, cut back on the amount of sugar the recipe calls for by 1/3 to 1/2 (this often doesn’t make much of a difference in taste).
Did you know that:
• A 12 oz. can of Coca Cola contains 36 grams of sugar, the equivalent of over 9 sugar cubes.
• A 6.75 fl oz. juicebox of Apple & Eve apple juice contains 18 grams of sugar, the equivalent of over 4 sugar cubes.
• A 6 oz. container of Yoplait yogurt contains 19 grams of sugar, the equivalent of over 4 sugar cubes.
• A 4 oz. container of Mott’s Sweetened Applesauce contains 22 grams of sugar, the equivalent of over 5 sugar cubes.
• A 12 oz. cup of McDonald’s Oreo McFlurry contains 64 grams of sugar, or the equivalent of 15 sugar cubes.
• A 1/2 cup of Häagen-Dazs Frozen Yogurt, Vanilla contains 22 grams of sugar, or the equivalent of over 5 sugar cubes.
The new year is a great time to commit to making improvements in our lives. It’s a fresh start, a chance to make the right choices, and ensure that the next year is better than the ones before it. The key to living a longer, happier life is being healthy and we can do that by making better food choices for our families.
By Pamela V. Miller