Child eating and relishing chocolate - outdoor in nature

I don’t want my kids to be the first generation that die younger than their parents due to bad diet. Consuming too much is sugar now being described as “worse than smoking”. The World Health Organisation has suggested halving the recommended daily allowance. What does all this mean for our kids? Obesity, diabetes and heart disease to name a few if we ignore it. How much sugar is too much? I thought I’d better find out.

What sugar are we targeting?

With sugar proving to be so damaging, I want to reduce the amount of added sugar since these do little to help our general health and well-being. I want my kids to eat stuff with natural sugars because they have other important health benefits. These include things like fruit, sweet vegetables, milk and natural yoghurts.

Just so we are all on the same page, added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. This does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruits.

Measuring my kid’s added sugar intake

After keeping a food diary for myself for a week, I did the same for my 11 year old daughter, Emma. We recorded everything she consumed over seven days using an iPad app. It was then relatively easy to see all the added sugars, the natural sugars and the rest of the nutrient intake.

If you don’t want to do a full-on food diary, just add up all the added sugars from the food labels as you eat it.If I look at the oats and honey bar I am eating right now, the food labelling shows 12g of sugar with ‘sugar’ appearing 2nd on the ingredients list after whole grain rolled oats. This is the added sugar.

How much added sugar is regarded safe for kids?

Several sources* quote added sugar intake should be less than 10% of total daily calories, or, less than 70g per day for children under the age of 18. This is before the World Health Organisation’s wish to reduce it by 50%.

What does 70g of added sugar look like?

Below are three lists from Emma’s food diary, each representing the actual food from a single day with added sugar. Each one is roughly around 70mg.

  • DAY 1 – A tablespoon of Nutella on toast, a kid’s yoghurt, a biscuit and a couple of sweets. Total 55g added sugar.
  • DAY 2 – A fruit smoothie with added Danone Actimel yoghurt drink, a piece of banana cake and a little chocolate. Total 62g added sugar.
  • DAY 3 – Nutella on toast, a yoghurt, a cookie and a yoghurt drink. Total 66g added sugar

How easy is it to blow your RDA for added sugar?

It really is very easy. There was one day where we hit nearly twice the daily RDA, coming in at 132g. I’ll tell you exactly how we got there one Wednesday. All it took was the added sugar in the food below.

  • Nutella on toast for breakfast.
  • A glass of Ribena (sugared soft drink)  with dinner
  • A Danone Actimel drink (as part of a smoothie)
  • A  small packet of Haribos
  • A Dole Peach fruit pot for desert

Where is all the added sugar coming from in our diet?

If we look back at the diary, the added sugar is predominantly from yoghurts, sugary drinks, Nutella, cake and sweets.

For Emma, the average daily added sugar intake made up 4% of the total calories or around 65g per day. I’m really pleased with this but know I don’t always see the full picture. I’m sure there could be more of the bad stuff sneaking in without us knowing.

What is the key point from this?

Well, it would not take much to blow the added sugar RDA sky-high. To put this into perspective, on top of her usual diet we are one can of Coca-Cola or one chocolate bar away from breaching the RDA. Just adding a high sugar children’s cereal for breakfast would push intake past our limits.

Here are 5 easy steps we are taking to reduce added sugar intake

  • Education. Get your kids interested in the nutritional value of food. We constantly look at the food labelling and check the nutritional composition. My kids know that anything over 25g of added sugar per 100g is not good.
  • Give your kids water instead of sugary drinks. We also avoid drinks with artificial sweeteners since we try to avoid added chemicals.
  •  Throw out all the high sugar snacks and sweets and replace them with bowls of fruit. Do this over a few weeks / months… not overnight otherwise is it not sustainable and the kids get upset.
  • Make your own snacks with lower added sugar. Get baking and reduce the sugar in recipes.
  • Get the whole family to join in. Don’t just do this for the kids; make it a way of life for the whole family. They will follow by example.

Thanks for taking the time read this. If you liked the post, please don’t forget to share it on Facebook and +1 it on Google+. Links to my social networks are on the right sidebar. That way I can get the information out to more people who need it.

* My benchmark RDAs are based on 4 publications from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Health Service UK (NHS UK), the American Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Mike’s disclaimer – Please note, the RDA’s are my benchmark figures. Check with your physician / doctor before you decide what your benchmark RDAs should be.