Any mom will tell you: shopping for snacks is a constant tug-of-war between what their kids want and what they need, nutritionally speaking. Oftentimes, convenience, affordability and what we know they'll actually eat ends up winning the day.
But that can mean a heaping dose of added sugar - that is, sugars and syrups that are added to foods when they are processed or prepared.
Just look at a new survey out of the U.K. that shows kids aged four to 10 get 51 percent of their sugar from unhealthy snacks. In that country, the national health board recommends limiting all kids' snacks to 100 calories, with a max of two snacks per day.
Here in the U.S., the situation isn't any better. In a study by the American Heart Association, American children aged four to eight average 21 teaspoons of sugar a day. That's shocking, considering the recommended daily limit is six teaspoons.
The bottom line: added sugar is probably sneaking its way into your child's diet, and it may be time to limit it for your little love's whole body health.
Angela Fals, MD, medical director of the weight management program at Florida Hospital's Center for Child & Family Wellness, weighs in with some expert advice on this topic.
"Sugar seems to be everywhere - at school, at parties, at our neighbor's house, and somehow it even makes its way into our own homes. Children and adolescents are consuming a lot more than the American Heart Association (AHA) recommendations of no more than six teaspoons daily of added sugars," explains Dr. Fals.
Eating too many sugary snacks can cause tooth decay, obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes - not to mention poor dietary habits that can last a lifetime.
Dr. Fals emphasizes, "The health consequences of consuming too much sugar in our daily diets are quite serious. We didn't used to see "adult" diseases in children but we are now there is certainly an obesity and Type 2 Diabetes epidemic. The latest research also shows that children are showing signs of early cardiovascular disease, even accumulating plaque in their arteries which could set them up for very serious health risks like heart disease and high blood pressure."
Finding sugar in kids' snacks can be tricky. Some snacks - such as candy and chocolate, soft drinks, ice cream and packaged sweets - are easy to spot.
But seemingly healthy snacks can be just as loaded with sugar. Common offenders include packaged protein or snack bars, breakfast cereals, bottled smoothie drinks and pre-packaged oatmeal. Many of the yogurts marketed toward kids contain as much sugar as a candy bar.
"Be sure to learn and teach your child how to read nutritional labels and watch labels that claim "low sugar" or "no sugar," as these are sometimes not as accurate as we would hope. It is important to read the ingredients list as well because added processed sugars can also be written as corn syrup or sucrose," Dr. Fals advises.
Incorporating healthier snack options will not only help your kids get the nutrients they need to grow up strong, it'll set them up for success for years to come.
Dr. Fals concludes, "It is very important to choose natural sugars and try to stick to the maximum AHA recommendations of six teaspoons daily for children and adolescents. Foods that combine nutrients in an ideal manner have a healthy carbohydrate, lean or plant-based protein, and low or healthy fat option. Below are some great ideas for making healthier snack choices!"
Healthy Snacks Kids Will Love
Snacking healthy doesn't have to mean eating like a bird or blowing your budget. Here are some delicious and affordable snacks that it's OK for your kids (and you) to crave.
Popcorn. This whole-grain snack isn't just a crowd pleaser at the movie theater. For at-home popcorn, avoid the microwave bags and go for the stovetop kernels - it's healthier and more cost-effective, too. Once it's popped, you can dress it up with all kinds of tasty toppings, from cinnamon to grated cheese to a light sprinkling of dry ranch dressing mix.
Natural Peanut Butter. For most kids, protein-packed peanut butter is a welcome menu staple. Opt for natural peanut butter, which comes without added sugars and other bad-for-you ingredients. Try it with apple slices, bananas, celery or whole-wheat toast.
Cheese. In France, school children are often served a cheese course at lunchtime. That's because cheese is loaded with protein and calcium, and not a gram of added sugar. Fun-to-eat string cheese or cheese slices served alongside apple slices, carrot sticks or grapes, is a healthy and satisfying snack.
100% Fruit Juice. What kid doesn't love fruit juice? But all juices are not created equal. Read labels closely to make sure you're buying 100 percent fruit juice with no added sugar, rather than a "fruit beverage" loaded corn syrup and only a fraction of actual juice.
Pita & Dips. These days, hummus comes in a variety of flavors that are equally appealing to kids and grown-ups. Serve it with sliced veggies, pita chips or toasted pita bread. Hummus a no-go in your house? Try salsa or black bean dip instead.
Fruit. It's not called "nature's candy" for nothing. Fresh peaches, plums, apples, grapes, bananas and, well, just about any other fruit makes for a great snack that's naturally sweet.
Trail Mix. This snack requires a little detective work, too, as some store-bought trail mixes are loaded with added sugar and sodium. Look for bags with only whole ingredients, like unsalted nuts, dried fruit, yogurt chips or even dark chocolate. Or, buy the ingredients bulk and make a DIY mix.
If you have questions about your child's nutrition, speak to your trusted pediatrician for guidance and support. For support from one of our pediatric experts, including those at the Center for Child & Family Wellness, call (855) 303-DOCS.