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Holiday Sweets: Is Too Much Driving My Kids Crazy?





It’s that time of year again! When all you hear about from your kids is how much candy they’re going to score on Halloween while trick-or-treating or at the local Fall Festival, and what costume they are going to wear. Cue the eye roll from parents, who expect that they will have to tackle the aftermath of all the sugar coursing through their children’s veins. You can vividly envision the hyperactivity and tantrums after the sugar crash in your near future. Surely you want them to enjoy their childhood by scarfing down the candy that they hiked around the neighborhood to find. You know they will even endure a few “scary” houses to acquire the tasty treats despite being sure that Dracula would somehow jump out and chase them away. The sugar coma is worth the risk to them. On another note, what you don’t want is for them to eat so much candy that they get belly aches for days and vow never to eat another Butterfinger again. Nevertheless, what if kids don’t actually become more hyper the more sugar they ingest? What if it is all a myth?


In 1982, the National Institute of Health declared that no link between sugar and hyperactivity had been scientifically proven. Why, then, does this myth still persist? A majority of it may be psychological. Research has shown that parents who believe in a link between sugar and hyperactivity see one, even though others do not. Another explanation is that children tend to be more excited at events like birthday and Halloween parties where sugary foods are usually available. People may have confused proximity with correlation although the environment is probably more to blame than the food. However, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to allow children to overindulge on sweets.


Although sugar may not be correlated to hyperactivity, it certainly is linked to major health complications. Eating excess amounts of the sweet stuff can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver, tooth decay, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other health problems, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. An average of 17% of children’s diets are made up of added sugar. Half of that is from sugary beverages.


The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the World Health Organization warn of the dangers of added sugars and recommend that for people 2 years and older, no more than 10% of daily calories come from added sugar. For example, if a toddler is consuming 1200 calories per day, then no more than 120 calories should come from added sugars. “Children are developing eating habits and taste preferences that will last a lifetime,” said Johnson, a professor of nutrition and pediatrics at the University of Vermont in Burlington. “The sooner families begin to limit the amount of added sugars in their diets, the better.”


Oddly enough, your kiddos can still enjoy Halloween and Fall Festival treats all while eating in a way that is considered healthy. Does that mean that you can give them a dose of candy every single day until the bowl runs dry? Not necessarily. However, it does mean that it’s ok to indulge occasionally or weekly as long as a majority of their diet is filled with the good stuff. That means consuming a daily 2-3 servings of veggies, 2-3 servings of fruit, 3 servings of dairy, 5-6 servings of lean protein, and 6-7 servings of mostly whole grains per day. If there is room left in their little bellies for more, then by all means. As long as it doesn’t exceed the recommended amount of 25 g (6 teaspoons, ~100 calories) added sugar per day for children 2 years and older. Added sugars are considered sugars or syrups that are added to foods or beverages with processing or preparation, and excludes naturally occurring sugars found in fruit and milk.


In order to reduce the amount of overall added sugar in your child’s diet, there are several things you can do: 1) avoid offering beverages and foods with added sugars to children less than 2 years old; 2) serve water or milk instead of soda, sweet tea, lemonade, sweetened coffee drinks, and fruit-flavored drinks; 3) limit 100% juice to 4 oz. for children aged 1 to 3 years, 4-6 oz. for children aged 4-6 years, and 8 oz. for children aged 7-14 years; 4) keep an eye out for hidden food sources of sugar such as ketchup, dried fruit, and baked beans; 5) beat sweet cravings by offering fruit in place of candy, other dessert foods, and sugary beverages.


The following is a list of common candies your kids may find while trick-or-treating or attending a Fall Festival:

  • Candy Corn, 19 pieces - 28 g

  • Hershey’s Kiss, 9 pieces - 23 g

  • Candy apple, 1 small - 17 g

  • Sweet Tarts, 8 pieces - 13 g

  • Gummy Bears, 17 pieces - 18 g

  • Red Vines, 4 vines - 16 g

  • Miniature Snickers, 1 pkg. - 5 g

  • Butterfinger Bites, 1 pkg. - 2 g

  • Miniature M&M’s, 1 pkg. - 9 g

  • Miniature Milky Way, 1 pkg. - 5 g

  • Starburst, 16 pieces - 16 g

  • Skittles, 1 mini pack - 11 g





References

  1. Added Sugar in Kid’s Diets: How Much is Too Much? AAP News Website. March 25, 2019. https://publications.aap.org/aapnews/news/. Accessed September 7, 2022.

  2. Sugary Drink Overload: AAP-AHA Suggest Excise Tax to Reduce Consumption. AAP News Website. March 25, 2019. https://publications.aap.org/aapnews/news/14112. Accessed September 7, 2022.

  3. Does Sugar Really Make Children Hyper? Yale Scientific Website. September 1, 2010. https://www.yalescientific.org/2010/09/mythbusters-does-sugar-really-make-children-hyper/. Accessed September 7, 2022.

  4. Normal Nutrition page. Pediatric Nutrition Care Manual Website. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Accessed September 7, 2022.

  5. Know Your Limit for Added Sugars. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/sugar.html. Accessed September 7, 2022.

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