While fruit drinks, sodas, and other sweet beverages bear the brunt of the too-much-sugar finger-wagging, new research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that food choices can contribute significantly more added-sugar calories (59 percent) to your child's diet than beverages (41 percent). And almost two-thirds of added sugar is gobbled up at home—not at daycare or school. Most of us aren't doling out Pixy Stix at snacktime, so what gives? “Many parents don't realize that oftentimes when fat is taken out of a food, sugar is put in. So if you're buying something labeled low-fat, it likely appears healthier than it really is,” says Marilyn Tanner-Blasiar, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Read labels carefully and avoid foods with more than 10 grams of sugar per serving. Some sneaky sugars you may have missed:
Low-Fat Peanut Butter
“Manufacturers take out the fat, but to give it the texture and taste of regular peanut butter, they add sugar,” says Tanner-Blasiar. “The fat that is naturally occurring in peanut butter is healthy, so go with the regular stuff.” P.S. Truly healthy peanut butter contains peanuts and maybe some salt-that's it.
Some children's cereals contain more sugar than a Twinkie—and it's not just the rainbow-colored, chocolate-loaded choices that are the problem. “Ideally, you want to select a cereal with five grams of sugar or less per serving,” says Tanner-Blasiar. Or you can mix a healthier low-sugar cereal with a pre-sweetened one.
The little bit of sugar you get from eating whole fruit is a good thing, since it's also packed with nutrients and fiber, which helps fill you up, says Tanner-Blasiar. With canned fruit, however, the good-for-you element is less beneficial and the sugar is higher—especially if you're buying the syrup-packed variety. “Always look for water-packed,” says Tanner-Blasiar. “If you accidentally get the syrupy one, thoroughly rinse the fruit in water.”
Keep this to an occasional treat. Instead of premade varieties, make your own with skim milk and Ovaltine or Carnation Instant Breakfast, both of which have additional vitamins and less sugar.
These are just as sugar-packed as fruit juice. Check the label. If you see things like corn syrup, artificial colors, or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, say no thanks. “The only ingredients should be fruit-derived,” says Tanner-Blasiar, and fresh fruit is always best!
Since milk already contains sugar thanks to naturally occurring lactose, added flavors can really up the quota. Your best bet is to buy plain or vanilla and add your own sweetness by way of berries or banana chunks.