I am not an extremist or food faddist. I am a realist, a pragmatist, an everything- in-moderation kind of girl. But when you ask me about sugar, I am concerned…for all of us. I haven’t yet seen the movie, FED UP, (and I typically shy away from sensationalized pieces), but the premise strikes a chord. Check out these statistics:
Approximately 1 out of 3 children born after 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime (1).
18% of children ages 6-11 are obese (based on 2009-2010 data), up from 6.5% in 1976-80 (2). That is almost a three fold increase.
“The average 6-to-11 year old American boy consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar every day, and the average girl of that age consumes 18 teaspoons” (versus a recommended 7 teaspoons maximum) (3).
Children who eat “children’s cereal” (with characters on the box) daily eat approximately 10 pounds of added sugar (in the cereal alone) per year (3).
The average American consumes 38.6 pounds of added sugars from sweetened beverages per year (3).
Are those enough to make you feel sick? Me too.
Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit public health organization, recently published a report on sugar in cold breakfast cereal. Here are a few key points:
Cereal marketed to children has 40% more sugar than adult cereal (3).
Of 181 children’s cereals, only 10 met EWG’s standards of low sugar (defined as 1 teaspoon or less of added sugar per serving) (3).
On average, children’s cereals contain 2 teaspoons of added sugar per serving (3).
A common serving size is ¾ cup, but most people eat more – so they are eating more sugar (3).
Many cereals with the highest sugar content have health claims on the box such as “Excellent Source of 9 Vitamins and Minerals” which is confusing (3).
As parents what can we do?
Understand how to read a label. 1 teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams of sugar on the Nutrition Label. So if the serving size is ¾ cup and there are 8g of sugar, your child is eating 2 teaspoons of added sugar in the ¾ cup. Obviously if they eat 1 ½ cups of cereal, they are consuming 4 teaspoons of added sugar for breakfast.
Opt for low sugar cereals with 4 grams or less of added sugar per serving.
[Grownups], take the #FEDUPCHALLENGE. I’m never one to suggest extremist/fad diets, but completely removing added sugar from your diet for 10 days is educational just to see how pervasive sugar is in our food supply. I am on day 9 of this (full disclosure: writer did consume a chocolate covered strawberry and sliver of homemade pound cake at parties last weekend!)...I do not advocate this with children (my children were unaware of my experiment.) Involving kids in restrictive eating (despite my good intentions) doesn't jive with my everything-in-moderation philosophy.
Learn the 56 names of sugar. I love this list #FEDUPCHALLENGE put together – check it out on our Facebook page! And remember there are a lot of different kinds of sugar, but sugar is sugar is sugar whether it’s called agave, or honey or anything else.
Know the goal. Most public health organizations advocate 5 -10% of total calories from added sugar. For kids, this is about 4-7 teaspoons per DAY. For adults, if we eat 2000 calories, that is 100-200 calories per day. We have our work cut out for us.
Start the sugar wean. Work this summer on cutting down added sugar slowly. Offer sweet snacks less often. Take advantage of all the naturally sweet fresh summer fruit. Buy unsweetened cereals and yogurt and add smaller amounts of sugar yourself.
Think outside of the cereal box with these six down-and-dirty, no frills, not fancy, no-recipe-required, throw-together-and-get-the-kids-out-the-door breakfasts.
Whole wheat English muffin with sliced avocado and smoked salmon (and chopped red onions)
Toast/English Muffin with shredded cheese and grated apples
Plain Greek Yogurt with fresh nuts and seeds (add a little honey if your kids need it)
English Muffin Pizzas (with grated carrots or zucchini, tomato sauce, shredded cheese)
Cracker Eggs (Triscuits with hardboiled eggs)
Almond butter, Banana, Unsweetened coconut & crackers (or Toast with Almond Butter & Banana)
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(3) Environmental Working Group, Children's Cereals: Sugar by the Pound; www.ewg.org