Do You Realize How Much Sugar Your Children Are Consuming?

It’s hard to find a person who doesn’t understand the ill effects of sugar, yet our personal health AND the health of our children continue to decline.  Do you realize how much sugar or hidden sugars are in the foods you consume on a regular basis, particularly foods which are considered healthy? Have you ever looked at the labels of the foods your children are consuming? Do you know what effect sugar is having on the health of our children?

How much sugar are your children consuming?

The American Society for Nutrition published recent findings in a study:  

The study which found 99% of a representative sample of US toddlers age 19-23 months consumed an average of just over 7 teaspoons of added sugar on a given day-more than the amount in a Snickers bar.   60% of children were found to consume added sugar before age 1.

What is the current health of our children?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) writes:

In a new Pediatrics study, "Prevalence of Obesity and Severe Obesity in US Children 1999-2016 ," the authors deliver a grim message that despite nearly 3 decades of awareness and prevention efforts, the childhood obesity epidemic continues to grow on a national scale.

A hoped-for stabilization in obesity rates among 2-5 year-old children suggested by earlier research has vanished. The new, more nuanced study found rates of overweight and obesity have increased in all age groups among children ages 2-19, in fact, and the increase in severe obesity and obesity in Black and Hispanic children is accelerating at an alarming rate. 

In total, 1 out of every 5 children in the United States have obesity. The rates increase with age, and more than 40 percent of teens struggle with obesity by the time they reach 16-19 years of age. Slowly but relentlessly, the obesity epidemic has become a major threat to every child's ability to achieve their full potential as a healthy, productive adult.

Children, adolescents and young adults now have obesity related conditions that were once rarely seen before adulthood--type 2 diabetes, liver disease, hypertension, sleep apnea, and more--that are compromising their current and future health.

Children are becoming so obese that some 8-12 year olds were excluded from the study due to the fact that they could not fit inside of the MRI scanning machine.

How much sugar can your safely children consume?

The American Medical Association (AMA) has suggested that all children under the age of 18 should consume no more than 6 teaspoons or 25 grams of sugar per day.  Remember that on any given day, US toddlers age 19-23 months consumed an average of just over 7 teaspoons of added sugar, 1 more teaspoon than the maximum 17 year old can consume.

What does that mean?

Let’s understand that a 17 year old child is more of an adult than child. In my opinion, a 6 year old child should not consume the same as a 17 year old. I would suggest cutting the quantity down to 3 teaspoons or 12 grams total sugar at the most for kids under the age of 10.

The AMA suggests parents and grandparents watch food labels for added sugar in the form of fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, glucose, honey, lactose, and sucrose. I would advocate for also including fruits and naturally occurring sugars in this equation.

Below is a list of common foods children are consuming. Some are natural, some are considered healthy, some you may not realize have sugars in them, and finally common treats our children enjoy.  All contribute to the total “load” of sugar kids may consume per day. Foods that have double digit amounts of sugar are highlighted in bold.

Healthy natural foods:

Strawberries (1 cup):7 grams

Watermelon (1 cup diced):9 grams

Orange (Medium sized):12 grams

Banana (Medium sized): 14 grams 

Pink lady apple. (Medium sized): 19 grams

Red grapes (1 cup) : 23 grams

Foods some consider to be “healthy” yet high in sugar:


Honey Nut Cheerios breakfast cereal. (3/4 cup): 9 grams

Welches fruit snacks: 11 grams.

Frosted Flakes cereal (3/4 cup): 11 grams

Stonyfield Low fat plain yogurt: 12 grams

Gatorade Lemon-lime sports drinks: 14 grams

Bush’s Canned baked beans (1/2 cup): 14 grams

Organic Chocolate milk (1 cup):24 grams

Yoplait original strawberry low fat yogurt: 26 grams

Cran Rasberry Fruit juice (1 cup): 28 grams

Dr Smoothie pineapple bottled smoothies(2.5 oz):  29 grams


Foods you may be surprised to be high in sugar:

Quaker chocolate chip Granola bar: 7 grams

Heinz’s Ketchup (2 TBSN): 8 grams

Gefen gluten free spaghetti sauce: (1/2 cup) 8 grams

Vitamin Water: 13 grams

BBQ sauce. (2 TBSN): 13 grams

Aloha peanut butter chocolate chip Protein bars: 14 grams 

Special K Cereal bars: 15 grams

Canned pears:16 grams 

Chocolate chip peanut crunch Cliff Bar:17 grams

Dehydrated mixed Fruit:18 grams

Common desserts children consume:

Snickers candy bar:20 grams

7up Soda (1 can): 23 grams

Sour Patch Kids candy: 24 grams

Dairy Queen small vanilla cone: 25 grams

Coca Cola (1can): 39 grams

Diary Queen small chocolate chip cookie dough blizzard: 46 grams

Coca Cola (1 bottle): 65 grams

One thing to consider is that many of these products are consumed together.  Oftentimes you will see a 10 year old child eating the Sour Patch Kids candy along with a bottle of Coke.  That would be 89 grams of sugar (over 7 days worth) they are consuming in one sitting. Well above the 12 grams they should have in a day.      

A common meal plan for a child



A bowl (1 1/2 cups) of Honey Nut Cheerios.  18 grams

1 1/2 glasses of chocolate milk.   32 grams


Mid-Morning snack

Welches fruit snack. 11 grams



Hamburger with ketchup. 8 grams

French fries with ketchup. 8 grams

Canned pears. 16 grams

Gatorade. 14 grams


Mid-Afternoon snack

Sour Patch Kids Candy. 24 grams



Pasta with spaghetti sauce (1/2 cup). 8 grams

7up soda:23 grams



Small Dairy Queen vanilla cone. 25 grams  


Before bed small snack

Special K cereal bar. 15 grams  


Many parents would think that the example above is a healthy meal plan for the day.  Yet, this child had consumed 202 grams of sugar in one day. 177 grams more than what a the AHA recommends.  If we were to eliminate the ice cream, canned pears, sour patch candy, and soda, we are still at 114 grams. We are still 89 grams over the recommended amount.  

Lead author Miriam B. Vos, M.D., M.S.P.H., nutrition scientist and associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine, said in a news release:

If your child is eating the right amount of calories to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight, there isn’t much room in their food ‘budget’ for low-value junk foods, which is where most added sugars are found.

Taking Dr. Vos’s idea that there isn’t room for low-value junk foods, here is an example of a healthy meal plan for children.  


Omelet, bacon, sausage, or protein pancakes.   0 sugars

1 glass of whole milk.   0 grams of added sugar (See note)


Mid morning snack

Apple (small sized) 9 grams



Hamburger with mustard. 0 grams

Pickles.  0 grams

1 cup strawberries.  7 grams

1 glass of whole milk.  0 grams of added sugar (See note)


Mid Afternoon snack

1-2 pieces of cheese.   0 grams



Chicken.  0 grams

Asparagus. 0 grams

Snow peas.  0 grams

1 glass of whole milk:0 grams of added sugar (See note)


1 2”x2” square of black bean brownie: 12 grams

*Note: I am not including lactose as a sugar. While it is technically a sugar, because the lactose is in whole milk, the effect on the blood sugar and insulin will be low. I cannot say the same thing for chocolate milk which has corn syrup and/or sugar added to it.

The processed sugars that the children consumed came in the form of low glycemic coconut sugar (in the brownie) and their sugar consumption is still at 28 grams. If we were to eliminate the brownie, we would be at 16 grams. Still above where we want it to be however, I much of that comes from the apple and strawberries.

Is there a difference between sugars in fruits and processed sugars? Yes and no. The American Society for Nutrition explains:  

There is no chemical difference between sugars found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and milk and sugars that are added to food products during processing or preparation.  The body, metabolizes natural and added sugars in the same way. However added sugars are considered more damaging to health because they displace nutritional components of food and contribute significantly to caloric intake.   Foods containing added sugars are often not accompanied by the other natural benefits one derives from eating foods that contain sugar, such as the fiber and vitamins contained in an apple.

Eating foods with added sugar can also influence a child’s food preferences, potentially leading to less healthful food choices later in life, researchers say.   

When you consume fruits, the digestion will take longer and the sugar will released slower into the bloodstream because fiber will be present.  The fiber will blunt any insulin spike as a result. When you consume fruit juices (which was fruit with the fiber stripped from it and leaving basically concentrated sugar) or processed sugars, there is zero or minimal fiber.  Because of the removal of the fiber, the insulin spike will be more severe, as well as the blood sugar crash. If you question the crash, ask any teacher about how the kids will yawn 30-60 minutes after the children have consumed sugar.  

How much fruit should a child consume?

When we are talking about children, I do not have a limit to the amount of fruit they can consume. They can eat as many apples as they want. That being said, when my children eat fruit, we consider it more of a dessert than a snack. They are already full from eating lunch or dinner which focused on meats (protein and fat) and vegetables. When eating after a meal, the child is less likely to over eat vs. on an empty stomach. I have found that children are in tune with their body as to when they are full and when they are not.  I cannot say the same for adults which is why I will put limits on fruit consumption for adults but no limits for children.

When my children ask what’s the difference between fruit sugar and fruit snacks sugar (for example). I simply explain it this way:

Fruit grew naturally in nature and was picked.  Any other kind of snack that did not “grow” and get picked, is not natural.  That doesn’t mean we can’t indulge on fruit snacks, candy, etc however these treats are for special occasions. We define a special occasion as once a week we watch a movie together, birthday party, etc. not as an mid morning or afternoon snack.

Why are children eating so much sugar? Parents Magazine writes:

The world rains sugar on my children. The bus driver offers my child bubble gum. The teachers give cupcakes at every birthday party. The school vending machine is full of junk food; so is the one at the YMCA. At camp, the counselors offer candy and an ice pop at the end of the day. Our kids are invited to birthday parties which include a cake, a candy piñata, and then a goodie bag bursting with still more more candy.

Fifty years ago, almost any business or social event would include cigarettes, often offered as a party favor. Now, most educated people would be shocked to see people smoking at an event with children in the room. Similarly, I predict that 20 years from now, we'll look back in astonishment at the amount of sugar that we unthinkingly fed our children. Tradition is not something we're locked into.

There is endless academic research showing that when people or children perform a task for a reward, they lose interest when that reward disappears. By giving kids candy at school, you're not teaching love of learning; you're teaching love of candy.

Besides the effect sugar has on insulin, we need to be cautious of the addictive nature of sugar. Is consuming excess amounts of sugar considered healthy? Again, there is a reason why 1 out of every 5 children in the United States is obese.   

What can you do?

Understand that an abundance of sugar is leading to the epidemic of obesity with our children.   While we know sugar is in ice cream and candy, know that sugar is in also foods such as spaghetti sauce, yogurt, protein bars, cereal, and fruit snacks, all of which is considered healthy.  

As Dr. Vos explains, if you eat healthy foods throughout the day, there WILL NOT be room to consume foods other than fruits in their daily allotment for sugar. She suggests the best way to avoid sugars is to serve foods high in nutrition, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meats, poultry and fish, and limit foods with little nutritional value.  

Don’t be part of the problem but part of the solution. Instead of giving “goodie” bags at birthday parties, give something other than sugar.  Instead of bribing kids with addictive sugar, offer something else for good behavior. Reading a book together, more play time together, etc. Become the role model your children need.

Steven Zahn

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