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How to Reduce Hidden Sugars in Your Family’s Diet

Nearly one in three children meets the criteria for being overweight or obese. Reducing sugar is an important way to minimize your child’s risk for these health issues. We often expect sugar to look the way it looks when we sweeten our tea or coffee — as a powder. However, the majority of foods that we purchase or make are fortified or supplemented with sugar, and you would only know if it was supplemented by reading a food label. Below are some tips to help parents understand and identify hidden sugars.

How much sugar should kids consume on a daily basis?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children less than 2 years old have no sugar in their diet. Children 2 and older should stick to no more than six teaspoons, which is a very small amount. One can (8-10 ounces) of soft drink or orange juice can have 35 to 40 grams, so you can see how quickly sugar consumption adds up.

Common Foods with Hidden Sugars

Many foods are marketed as “healthy” for kids and families but are unfortunately not great for maintaining a healthy weight or for overall health. Some top foods with hidden sugars are:

  • Sports drinks and energy drinks
  • 100% juice drinks
  • Breads and cereals
  • Yogurts and flavored milks
  • Most breakfast foods (pancakes, waffles, croissants)

How To Reduce Hidden Sugars:

  • Consider watering down or diluting juice, soda or sports drink, or opt for flavored or sparkling water options instead.
  • When it comes to breads and cereals, look for whole wheat options. The more fiber the food has, the less detrimental the effects of the sugar it contains.
  • Add fresh fruit or a small amount of honey to plain yogurt instead of choosing flavored yogurt. A healthy portion for most children is often about the amount of yogurt that fits in their hand. Also, milk is already sweet, so adding more sweeteners is adding unnecessary calories.
  • For breakfast, consider unprocessed foods: Eggs, fruit, vegetables and lean meats (turkey bacon) can really fill you up in a healthy way. When making pancakes or waffles, think about portions and consider it as “extra” rather than as the main part of your meal.

Are sugar substitutes or zero sugar options healthy?

Sugar substitutes have both advantages and disadvantages. They have been hard to study because whether they are synthetic (saccharides) or natural (stevia), they are metabolized in different ways and therefore difficult to compare. The more we avoid synthetic substances, the healthier we are. Some studies have suggested that artificial sweeteners can cause increased appetite, insulin response (and therefore increase risk for diabetes) and in some cases, cancer.

However, for some patients, transitioning to artificial sweeteners has led to improved health because of the resulting reduced intake of high-fructose corn syrup that was more detrimental to their health. In some cases, this transition may be a good way to gradually improve daily sugar intake.

Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Newsroom for more health tips or download the Pocket Doc app, featuring a symptom checker, parenting advice and other tools for staying in touch with us.


About Dr. Hernandez: Dr. Hernandez is assistant professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and medical director of the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Healthy Weight Initiative. She completed her medical school, residency and fellowship training at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She additionally completed a Master in Public Health with an emphasis on nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health during her fellowship in general academic pediatrics.

*Presented by Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital | Originally Published in March 2022

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