Sugar and Toddlers


Admittedly, prior to having Berlin, I paid little, to no attention to the amount of sugar in my food. I would look at the fat or protein content rather than check out the possibly high amount of sugar lurking in my food. Honestly, I figured, since I didn’t eat candy bars or drink soda, my daily sugar intake must be at a healthy level. But once I began the journey of feeding solids to Berlin, I realized I was sorely mistaken and the amount of sugar I was ingesting as a relatively healthy individual was shocking.

It wasn’t until I began reading nutrition labels more closely and understanding the amount of sugar in my food,  that I discovered, by noon on any given day, I was easily downing nearly 35 grams (or 9 teaspoons) of sugar (and that only included eating one Clif Bar and drinking a homemade fruit smoothie). I sadly assumed that companies, like Clif Bar, that touted healthy living, with a belief in organic and sustainable living, were making products that were nutritious and low on simple sugars. But reality is, these bars are no healthier than a chocolate bar. In fact, the Carrot Cake bar I tricked myself into thinking was healthy, was giving me a whopping 25 grams of sugar in one serving. That is more than a Hershey’s chocolate bar by a surprising 6 grams. Shocking, right?!

Once I made this realization, I really started investigating the amount of sugar in the everyday food items I was buying for Berlin. I also began researching the scary truth about sugar’s effect on toddlers, and the actual amount of sugar that is healthy for a toddler to be ingesting per a daily basis. What I discovered was that although I am one of the more strict parents when it comes to Berlin’s diet, she too, was eating far too much sugar.

So what is a healthy amount of sugar for our toddlers to be ingesting? According to the American Heart Association, preschool age children eating a 1000 calorie diet, should be eating no more than 3 teaspoons, or 12 grams of sugar per day. The shocking reality is that toddlers are far surpassing that number, and according to the AHA are eating on average nearly 12 teaspoons (or 48 grams) of sugar daily. If you stop to think about it, that is really rather gross. Imagine taking 12 teaspoons and pouring it into your toddlers food each day, doubt you could do it with a good conscience.

So now that you know what the recommended intake is, lets look at the sugar content per serving in some of the foods toddlers are eating on a daily basis:

Stonyfield’s yoBaby organic yogurt: 13 grams
GoGo Applesauce Squeeze: 12 grams
Trader Joe’s Organic Probiotic Yogurt Smoothie: 23 grams
Happy Tot Organic fruit packets: 15-20 grams
Earth’s Best Instant Oatmeal: 8 grams
Sprout Organic Fruit Snacks: 13 grams
Nature’s Path Organic Koala Crip Cereal: 11 grams
Nature’s Path Organic Chocolate Crisp Bars: 8 grams
Plum Organics Jammy Sammy cereal bar: 11 grams

What is really sad, is that all of the above mentioned foods are organic and supposedly “healthy” brands. If you’re like me, you assume that organic products, made specifically for children, are nutritious options for your toddler. But most of these options supply your toddler with a full day’s amount of recommended sugar in just one serving.

Now lets discuss one of the biggest culprits of “through the roof” sugar levels, that are touted as a healthy option for our children, 100% juice boxes. I would say its safe to say that nearly half of children drink these on a daily basis, and I would assume that most parents think that its providing their children with the healthy nutrients that are needed each day. But in actuality, its like handing them a glass full of sugar with a bunch of unnecessary calories. To better understand this, let’s look at how juice is made. On average, it takes 3-4 medium apples to make one 8 ounce box of apple juice. Each apple has approximately 25 grams of sugar and 5 grams of healthy, much-needed fiber. The issue is, in the process of juicing, the cell walls are broken down and the fiber is eliminated, and fiber is what is needed to slow the metabolization of sugar and make you feel full. Therefore the body metabolizes the juice just the same as a sugar laden soda, wrecking havoc on your liver, and leaving you feeling hungry.

So now that you are throughly frightened, you should understand what to look for when purchasing foods for your little one. Here are the few names that sugar is hidden in:

  • High Fructose corn syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Maple Syrup
  • Honey
  • Molasses
  • Cane sugar
  • Rice syrup
  • Anything with an “so” ending; dextrose, fructose, glucose

So how do we keep the sugar content down when its lurking everywhere? My best suggestion is to be mindful of food labels, anything with less than 5 grams of sugar is a safe bet. Serve plain, whole fat yogurt instead of fruit flavored (you can always jazz it up with some granola or whole fruit), serve whole foods; fruits, veggies and whole grains. Eliminate all empty calorie food options; juice boxes, high sugar cereals, fruit bars…and offer only water, milk or a homemade smoothie as a beverage option. Lastly, never buy anything with sugar being the number one ingredient listed on the package.

Of course, we can’t be perfect all the time. So just remember moderation is key. If your chid enjoys a high sugar fruit bar that day, watch what they eat the rest of the day. Be completley mindful of your child’s diet, you are in control of their health and are setting up their eating habits for life.

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  • Wow my daughter eats a lot of those brands and I never realized how much sugar was in them. That is crazy!

    • Jordan Rose

      Tell me about it! The yogurt one was my biggest shocker.

  • Have you seen the documentary, Fed Up? It sheds some serious light on the tricks that the American food industry has up their sleeves. A lot of it I was already aware of, but some of it left me shocked. I know there’s always many sides to every story, but if there’s any truth to it all, that’s enough for me to think twice as well. I do have a question about your statement above (12 grams of sugar a day for toddlers). Do you know if that’s ADDED sugar or does that include natural sugar found in fruits in veggies. I’m hoping it’s added. If not, that makes it super hard to keep their level at 12g if they’re fruit lovers (like mine). I’m with you, though. I definitely watch Mia’s sugar intake. I used to be really into my own diet a few years ago and paid attention to EVERYTHING on food labels. So I was already aware of the foods (like “health” bars) that have hidden sugar and so forth. It definitely takes more time on our part to choose and make the healthier and more natural stuff for our kids but that’s our job now, right? It’s to protect our kids and keep them safe and healthy and teach them healthy habits to grow to the best of their ability. This comment is getting long, but I have married friends who eat like CRAP. It’s awful…and they have 2 small kids (age 3 and 5) who literally, no joke, have some kind of candy, a bag of chips, a soda (A SODA!!!!) or a slurpee from 711 in their hands EVERY TIME I SEE THEM. They don’t eat breakfast (maybe a glass of juice) because they’re not hungry before school (says the parent) and their dad hates veggies so you know they’re not eating any at home. It’s just crazy. Anyways, good for you and thumbs up to all the parents who do make an effort to start their kids off right (even if they, themselves, don’t have the best diet). Great post :) -Misty

    • Jordan Rose

      Seriously? That is rather sad. Parents have to set good examples, or of course our children are not going to follow suit.
      I should have mentioned, you are correct, its added sugar. From what I understand this does not count natural sugar in fruit or milk.
      I’m so glad you watch Mia’s sugar’s intake, its refreshing to hear. Even my “healthy” friends don’t seem to hesitate about giving their kids some cake or candy. I figure she doesn’t even really know what it is it yet, so I avoid it all costs.

      • I try so hard to provide and make healthy meals for my kids! Having said that, there’s sugar, sodium, preservatives, and additives in EVERYTHING!!! At least we make a conscious effort and serve mostly homemade foods…some parents just have no clue and it’s not even their fault!

  • Isn’t it incredible how healthy foods basically trick us and are loaded with sugars and salts? We only give Aubrey whole milk, water or homed juice that we made with our breville. Once at a picnic someone gave her a caprisun (something we never ever give her) and she went crazy for the sugar, it was awful. She loves those Stonyfield yogurts, and goes to the fridge every morning and asks for one. But, I do try to limit her intake of boxed snacks. It can be hard with a picky toddler though!

    • Jordan Rose

      Tell me about it! Berlin is addicted to the yogurts as well, however I found they do sell them in plain flavor, so we go with that now. Not sure she loves them so much anymore… :)

  • I’m so behind on my blog reading, buuuut I’m soooo with you on this. I’m quite strict about a low sugar diet with my kids, and have become so for myself, too. I notice a difference in how I feel, and how they behave on low sugar. This is actually one benefit to living outside North America, as o do. All of that super tempting delicious noth American packaged food is either unavailable or really expensive (like nearly ten dollars for one small box of Cheerios). So, it is a whole lot easier to avoid the sugar heavy North American diet. Anyway, great post and down with sugar etc.

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