Sugar Anyone? By Amber Parisie, RD

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How much sugar is too much? Reducing sugar in a child’s diet is important.

Many of us know that eating too much processed sugar can be detrimental to our overall health. Unfortunately sugar is added to many foods, especially ones marketed for children. In order to ensure that our families don’t end up eating too much added sugar we must become nutrition label detectives and do some simple math. Don’t be scared, I promise it’s simple! With a little math and some reading of nutrition labels you may change the way you think of some commonly eaten “healthy” foods.

What kinds of common foods have added sugars? They are found in many foods, which at first glance we may think of as being healthy. Yogurts, smoothies, granola bars, dried fruit, granola and cereals are some that often contain a lot of added sugar. Just to clarify, when talking about added sugar I mean any sugar that isn’t naturally occurring. Naturally occurring sugars would come from fruit and dairy products.

When you’re reading a food ingredient list, keep an eye out for the many different forms of sugar. Here’s a list of commonly used forms of sugar:

– Fruit juice concentrates– Maltose– Corn sweetener

– Molasses– High fructose corn syrup– Raw sugar

– Honey– Beet sugar– Agave

– Sucrose– Cane sugar– Brown rice syrup

Let’s say you’ve read the ingredients list for the multi-grain granola bars you’re thinking of purchasing for your children’s lunches, and you’ve determined that there are some added sugars. When just looking at the grams of sugar it may be hard to visualize just how much sugar is actually in a product, but if you do a little math, you can learn to visualize how many teaspoons of sugar are in a product. It can be quite an eye opener! Here’s where the math comes in. Every 4 grams of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar. Divide the grams of sugar by 4 to find the teaspoons sugar. If these granola bars you were thinking of buying have 16 grams of sugar, that is equal to 4 teaspoons.When you think about eating 1 granola bar topped with 4 teaspoons of sugar it will make you think twice about that particular brand of granola bar! It’s usually possible to find lower sugar options.

Lastly, how much sugar is too much? The answer to that depends on the amount of calories you take in each day. For most children and adolescents the recommended amount of added sugars is quite low. For children and adolescents 4-13 years old who follow a 1200-1800 calorie diet the recommended maximum for added sugars daily is between 5-6 teaspoons. For a teenage boy who follows a 2200 calorie diet the recommended amount is 144 calories or about 9 teaspoons of sugar. That’s not much!

sugar2When shopping for foods always read the nutrition label and ingredients list before purchasing an item. If you convert grams of sugar to teaspoons of sugar and visualize how much sugar is in each serving it’ll increase you’re awareness of how much sugar is really in that product. You may find yourself thinking of certain things that your family eats all the time more like dessert items to be eaten occasionally. Remember, we don’t need added sugars but if we have them it’s best to keep them as low as possible. Keep your eye out for lower sugar alternatives, or ditch the added sugar all together and go all natural!

There are many alternatives to processed sugar! Check out this recipe for Coconut Squares!



Johnson, Rachel K. et al. Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation.2009; 120: 1011-1020

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  1. Shelah this is such an important topic you posted about. And I love the very easy Math you mentioned to calculate the sugar. Thanks for this informative post. I am definitely gonna use it when I buy my grocery next time. And I am sharing it on my fb page too to spread the word.


    1. Thanks, Jaya. Our resident nutritionist, Amber, will be so happy!


  2. This is a great reminder of how much sugar is added to everything! It makes me crazy the stuff that is marketed to us as being “healthy.” And thank you for the simple math-now I know how to figure out exactly how much we’re eating.


  3. Great post!! I feel like my life changed 1000x over when I started reading labels! Now if we can’t pronounce the ingredients we don’t buy the product! BTW those coconut squares look delicious!


    1. We have been reading labels, too but they can be confusing. Especially when comparing “serving size”.


  4. My sister sent her kids to a Montessori school for a while. The weren’t allowed to send any food that had sugar in it. They found that the kids were able to learn more effectively when they weren’t under the influence, so to speak. Thanks for this post! I’m going to be using the ideas. We’ve been trying to implement a diet lower in sugar slowly but surely and I have been in search of new recipes and tools.


    1. It is hard to go sugar free but being aware of not adding too much into the diet is good.


  5. Its crazy how much sugar is in everything… i notice my son behaves MUCH better when I pay more attention to how much sugar he is getting.


  6. Great post and reminder. I tried to give up sugar once and was AMAZED at how much is in everything we eat!! Its so important to read labels. Thanks!!


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