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Taming a Sweet Tooth

Halloween is approaching with candy and sweet challenges until the new year. When it comes to sugar, kids can see no problem with “all you eat.” Parents, I’m sure you try to rationalize why they should eat healthy but for kids, taste may beat nutrition. New research has shed some light on how harmful sugary foods can be to children. The new study, by the National Institutes of Health, recently published in the journal Obesity, reports that when added sugar was removed from a group of children’s diets after 10 days, the children showed dramatic improvements for some disease risks. The study supports that sugary foods may increase weight, Type 2 Diabetes, bad cholesterol, blood pressure, insulin levels, and high triglycerides in children.

The evidence that excess sugar can be harmful is overwhelming, but we are wired to easily love it- making it challenging to curb a sweet tooth. But no worries, the taste for sugar can be “unlearned” and taste buds adjust to less sugar over time. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Keep Sweet out of view. We will forget about sugar when we don’t see it. As much as they cry and even beg, take a stricter approach to when you allow candy. It’s also best to limit the age you introduce kids to sweetened foods. For certain, babies just starting to eat solid food should eat naturally unsweetened foods and veggies first. The first taste of sweet is memorable and can be addictive.

  • Read packages for added sugar Make sure you’re diligent about ingredients such as syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and even non-calorie sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame. Avoid buying heavy sweetened products and choose the lower sugar items on the shelf. Words for sugar often end in ‘ose” or sugar alcohols "tol"

  • Limit daily sugar intake. Research shows that we should keep the “added” sugar intake to less than 10 percent of calories. For young children that is between 12-16 grams/day. For pre-teens and adolescents that is 20-30 grams/day.

  • Try going for the half. There are little things you can do to help modify how much sugar we eat. For older children you can try plain yogurt with little honey until they adjust to a less sweet yogurt. NEVER give honey to a child under one year old due to potential harm. Diluting sweetened beverages with regular or seltzer water will also gradually reduce cravings for soda or sugary juices. How about mini size items like cupcakes? It’s a gradual change that can help make a difference. There are many healthier dessert options try at home.

  • Ditch artificial sweeteners. In my practice, I generally discourage switching from regular sweetened items to artificially sweetened products. It doesn’t help you control your sweet tooth and there is no evidence that it will improve your health. Not to mention potential health risks with over consumption.

Making an effort to cut down on sugar (real or fake) is just smart. Think about it this way: Sweet treats are not forbidden. It’s just best for us to manage how much we eat. I sound like a dietitian (and I am), but make more space for healthy foods first.

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