According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, American teens are consuming a whopping 28 teaspoons of added sugar daily. This is close to 500 calories, just from added sugar, or the equivalent of three, 12-ounce cans of soda.

What is added sugar and what are the consequences of large amounts?

“Added sugar is any kind of sugar, added during food processing or by the consumer at the point of consumption,” states Jean Welsh, the author of the study. Added sugars to consider are high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, corn syrup, corn sugar, dextrose and crystalline fructose. Additionally, one way to tell if your food contains these sugars is to look at the ingredients listed on the food label. Reading labels can help, but the food label does not discern between added sugar and sugar naturally occurring in food. It is important to note that sugar occurs naturally in some healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, milk, and grains.

Furthermore, the researchers noted that teens who consumed high amounts of added sugar had less HDL “good” cholesterol, high levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides. Possible long term consequences for these teens are at increased risk of heart attack and stroke earlier in life.

So, what can be done?

The American Heart Association has put into place guidelines for the limits of added sugar. The amount of added sugar that a child should consume on a daily basis depends on the child's age and caloric intake:

  • Preschoolers averaging 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day should limit added sugar to about 4 teaspoons (16 grams) per day.
  • Children ages 4 to 8 who average 1,600 calories per day should limit added sugar to about 3 teaspoons (12 grams) a day. To fit in all the nutritional requirements for this age group, there are fewer calories available for added sugar.
  • Pre-teen and teens averaging 1,800 to 2,000 calories per day should not have more than 5 to 8 teaspoons (20 to 32 grams) of added sugar per day.

One step to reduce added sugar is to take a look at what youth are drinking. Beverages such as soda, fruit drinks, and sport drinks are jam-packed with added sugar. Another step to reduce added sugar is to decrease the intake of these kind of beverages.

What parents and teachers should know:

It is important to know the recommended limit of added sugar intake and know common sources of these sugars when providing foods to children. Encouraging a child to choose a variety of healthy foods with little added sugar is a great way to promote a healthy lifestyle.