How to stop sugar from sneaking into your child's diet

Story highlights

  • US dietary guidelines recommend children consume less than 10% of daily calories from added sugars
  • Experts suggest that kids be allowed one sweet treat per day and learn to self-regulate sugar

(CNN)A lollipop after a morning doctor visit. A cupcake for a classmate's birthday with lunch. A bag of cookies, gummies or a few little doughuts before after-school activities begin.

And dessert is still a few hours away.
Even the word "snack" -- once thought of as a healthy, energizing source of calories for children -- can seem like a euphemism for an IV sugar solution these days.
    US dietary guidelines recommend consuming less than 10% of daily calories from added sugars. On a 1,500-calorie diet, a level appropriate for moderately active 4- to 8-year-olds, just less than 10% would be about 33 grams of added sugars per day.
    In August, the American Heart Association issued stricter sugar recommendations designed to keep kids healthy, stating that children should consume less than 6 teaspoons -- or 24 grams -- of added sugars per day. It also recommended that children and teens should limit their intake of sugar-sweetened drinks to no more than 8 ounces per week.
    Research suggests that babies are naturally inclined to crave sugar as soon as they exit the womb. It's not a preference at this very early stage but rather a biological reality. To complicate matters, consuming sugar causes kids to crave even more of the sweet stuff.
    "Sugar, packed in items like sugar-sweetened beverages and snacks, consumed consistently over many years can promote excess weight gain -- especially through the overproduction of insulin, which clears the blood of sugar (storing the calories as fat), and this leaves a child wanting more and more sugar," said Kathy Isoldi, a registered dietitian nutritionist and associate professor of nutrition at Long Island University, Post, who conducts research aimed at reducing childhood obesity prevalence.
    It's no wonder it can seem nearly impossible to curb our kids' intake when you take into account not only cake and soda but such foods as sweetened yogurt and breakfast cereal.

    The health effects of sugar

    The negative health effects of consuming too much sugar can appear well before adulthood and are not just limited to weight gain and obesity. In fact, you probably wouldn't serve your child beer or wine, but according to one researcher, too much sugar could have some similar effects.