What’s the added sugar limit for kids?
A follower touched base asking for advice on how much of the sweet stuff we should be feeding our kids.
As a result, we thought it’d be handy to share some info on this.
To begin with, it is important to remember recommendations are a limit, not a target – no one needs added sugar. We get all the sugars we need naturally from whole foods such as fruit and vegetables.
So, be sure to understand the difference between natural and added sugars.
As we have learned from That Sugar Film it is easy to consume a load of added sugar without realising it. Excess consumption can lead to all kinds of health problems. For kids, this includes tooth, liver and heart health, and can possibly impact learning.
For most, consuming a little is okay. But just how much is ‘a little’ when it comes to kids?
How much added sugar?
Generally, for children under the age of 2, the advice is they consume no added sugar whatsoever.1
As they get older, recommendations for the upper limit of added sugar intake can vary from 3 to 6 teaspoons (12.5-25g) per day.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons (25g) per day for those 2 years and older.2
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends we all limit intake of added and free sugars to 6 teaspoons (25g) per day for health benefits. This is 5% of total energy intake.1
Using the WHO recommendations, base estimated energy requirements for a 3-year-old is 3,200-3,400kj per day,3 though energy requirements increase the more physically active the child is.
If 5% is the added sugar limit, for a 3-year-old we’d be maxing out at 165kj from added sugar per day. As there are approximately 70kj in a 4g teaspoon, this translates to just over 2 teaspoons.
As the child ages, energy requirements change due to growth, gender, and increased physical activity.
The base estimated energy requirements for a 14-year-old are 5,700kj (for girls) and 6,600kj (for boys). 5% of total energy intake equates to a limit of 4-5 teaspoons. Again, if we consider added sugar intake on energy requirements alone, this amount will increase with the more exercise the kids or teens get.
However, no-one should be relying on energy from added sugars. While the occasional treat is fine, the less added sugar our children consume the better.
Consider limiting to (though not aiming for) 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day, and take care to consider the quality of the food over the energy content alone to meet a child’s daily energy requirements – eating half an avocado will do more good than a Mars bar. Though they’ve similar energy content, one is far better for health than the other packed with added sugars.*
Sugars are in junk foods, but beware hidden added sugars
It is also important to remember that many foods with added sugars are considered discretionary (a.k.a junk), and should only be consumed on occasion, not every day. In Australia, children under 8 years should not be offered more than half a serve of discretionary foods each day; those under 2 none at all.4
While many foods with added sugar are discretionary, there is much sweet stuff hidden in ‘healthy’ foods often marketed at kids, so keep this in mind.
Too much sweetness encourages bodies and palates to expect intense sweetness from food or drink, making the subtle sweetness of carrots or apples, or the more bitter flavours of vegetables much harder to tolerate. And we would all rather our kids ate more veg and fruit than confectionery or sweetened snack foods!
Crowd sugar out
Overall, a little added sugar is okay for most, but it is good to remain aware how easily the sweet stuff can sneak into our every day, every snack, and every meal.
The easiest way to limit intake is crowding out meals with real, fresh food like fruit, veg, nuts, seeds and plain dairy, and home made meals and snacks.
For some real, whole food inspiration, we’ve loads of ideas in our books and e-books, and on our website.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med)
*Half an avocado is approximately 100g, providing just over 600-650kj and a 36g Mars bar provides 694kj.
- World Health Organization 2015, Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children, viewed 23 August 2017, <http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/149782/1/9789241549028_eng.pdf?ua=1>
- Vos, MB, Kaar, JL, Welsh, JA, Van Horn, L V, Feig, DI, Anderson, CAM, Patel, MJ, Cruz Munos, J, Krebs, NF, Xanthakos, SA & Johnson, RK 2016, ‘Added Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children’, Circulation, [Epub]
- National Health and Research Medical Council 2016, Dietary Energy, viewed 23 August 2017, <https://www.nrv.gov.au/dietary-energy>
- Eat For Health 2015, Discretionary Food and Drink Choices, viewed 5 April 2017, <https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/food-essentials/discretionary-food-and-drink-choices>