How much added sugar is too much?

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I came across the following headline: “AHA Says Cap Added Sugars for Kids at 6 Teaspoons a Day.”

Six teaspoons! As if 6 teaspoons of sugar per day weren’t already too much to begin with (let alone ADDED sugar). But before I go on a rant about how sugar is killing us, let’s look at what those so-called “experts” had to say.

This recommendation came from the first scientific statement ever made on this topic by the American Heart Association (AHA). And it calls for children to consume less than 25 grams, (which equals six teaspoons) of added sugar per day.

Now granted, that’s far below the current average intake for American kids. In fact, kids in the United States between ages 2 and 19 consume three times that much: a whopping 80 grams of added sugar per day. And according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, half of that comes from sweetened beverages. But bear in mind, those numbers are self-reported—meaning the numbers likely underestimate the problem.

In addition to sweetened drinks, added sugars can come from lots of other sources, including table sugar, fructose, and honey. They are considered “added” if they’re used in processing or preparing foods, or if they’re added at the table or eaten separately.

Let’s pause to consider the fact that this definition means some people are eating table sugar, fructose, and honey on their own. I sincerely hope that’s not your kids — or you!

The guidelines go on to encourage people to drink “only” 8 ounces of sugary drinks a week.

While this advice would significantly cut down on the amount of sugar children consume, it still keeps them on the path to obesity and diabetes. The research-proven fact is, added sugars — and the empty calories that come with them — are the cause of excess fat (including deadly abdominal fat), diabetes, and heart disease.

Overweight children who consume added sugars up their risk of insulin-resistance, a precursor for type 2 diabetes. And kids who are fat by age 7 are very unlikely to ever shed those pounds.

So I’m baffled that the AHA would recommend any number other than zero. It’s like saying, “Try not to smoke more than one or two cigarettes per day.” The truth is that no amount of cigarette smoke is healthy — and the same is true of sugar. It’s not safe to have “just a bit” of added sugar every day.

Of course, it’s not just the AHA making a feeble attempt to address the role sugar plays in the rapidly deteriorating health of our nation. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is getting in on the anti-sugar message too. But again, it’s a watered-down attempt at dealing with the problem.

Beginning July 2018, the FDA will require food labels to show not just the total amount of sugar in an item, but also to separate out added sugars. As if there is any difference.

The body metabolizes it in the same exact way whether it’s an inherent part of the food or an additive. So why bother with the differentiation? Sugar is sugar, and let’s say it together: Sugar kills.

Now before you give up on me and say, “I can’t avoid all sugar. It’s impossible.” — let me stop you right there.

The truth is, it’s actually not that hard to avoid sugar. I do it, my patients do it, and it has never been easier.

If you serve your kids (and yourself) foods that are nutrient-dense — i.e. protein, vegetables, dairy products, lean meat, poultry, and fish — and limit foods with little nutritional value (i.e. products that come in boxes, bags, and other packages), you’ll naturally cut out sugar — without having to read a single label.

The next step is equally simple: Take table sugar, honey, and syrup off the table. I promise, after a few days, you won’t even miss them.

Step three: do not let your kids drink sweetened beverages. Sugar-sweetened beverages — including sports drinks, soft drinks, sweet tea, and energy drinks — account for one of the biggest sources of added sugar in kids’ diets. It’s a terrible habit to start, and there’s just no need for it. Plain water is the best hydration they can get, and it’s all they need.

Finally, whatever you do, do not use artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharine, or sucralose. Stevia is fine, but the others are chemical concoctions with more health risks than I can list here.

Since taste preferences start early in life, the earlier you start avoiding sugar for your child (and your whole family), the better. And obviously, starting in infancy is best. If you start them out eating healthy foods, those are the foods they will crave. My nurse’s child was raised on real food. He’s only three but when he is hungry, he asks for salmon, not Oreos.

The best thing you can ever do for your child is to give them the gift of good health — and that starts the moment they’re born. If you need some help getting started, check out my first book Feed Your Kids Well. You can learn more about it or order a copy by clicking here.