How to limit added sugars in your child’s diet – CHOC

A dietitian explains added sugars and if your child should avoid them

By Michelle Yavelow, clinical dietitian at CHOC

All the food we eat is made of three nutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates, or carbs, provide our bodies with sugar — which is our main source of energy. For you and your family, it is important to have a balanced diet with all three of these nutrients. 

What is added sugar?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines added sugars as sugars that are added during the processing of foods like sweeteners, syrups, honey and concentrated fruit or vegetable juices.

Added sugars do not include sugars found naturally in milk, fruits, and vegetables. Natural sugars found in foods would be considered as total carbohydrates

The table below highlights the main sources of added sugar intake in Americans ages 1 year and older.

Top sources and average intakes of added sugars: From The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025

Food Source Percent of added sugar source
Sugar-sweetened beverages (soft drinks, fruit drinks, sport/energy drinks, etc.) 24%
Desserts and sweet snacks (cookies, pastries, ice cream, cakes, pies, brownies, etc.) 19%
Other sources 19%
Coffee and tea 11%
Candy and sugars 9%
Sandwiches 7%
Breakfast cereals and bars 7%
Higher fat milk and yogurt 4%

How much added sugar is too much for my child?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, recommends a healthy, balanced diet should limit added sugars to less than 10% of your total calories per day, also know as the daily value. For children less than 2 years of age, added sugars should be avoided entirely. Eating too many added sugars can provide excess calories that can lead to heart problems and obesity. 

Updated nutrition fact labels now give us information on how much added sugar is present in the foods we buy. By understanding the labels on foods, we can begin to limit or avoid added sugars. Added sugars are represented in grams and percent (%) daily value on the nutrition facts label. If a product has a 5% daily value or less, it is a low source of added sugars. If a product has 20% daily value or more, it is a high source of added sugars. See below red square for where to find this information on a label.

The above product has 46% of the daily value for added sugars, making it a high source of added sugars.

How can I limit added sugars in my child’s diet?

By limiting and avoiding products with high amounts of added sugars, you and your family can have improved balance with the nutrients you all eat. Read the labels of the products you buy for your family the next time you go shopping. Do not hesitate to spend a few minutes in the store comparing nutrition facts labels of different products. Choose products with less added sugars.

Learn how to balance your family’s meals with healthy portions of protein, carbohydrates and fats.

For more on CHOC’s clinical nutrition program

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