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In this blog, you will discover:
- How we tracked our daughter's calories for a week
- What we found and what we needed to change
- Easy steps to help you reduce your child's added sugar
Recently, Amanda and I counted and tracked every calorie that our 6 year old ate for a week. About a week prior to starting, it sort of hit me that I wasn't actually sure how many calories she ate or if we were hitting below the daily recommended amounts of added sugar. Considering how much I talk about the virtues of giving up or severely limiting added sugar consumption, this seemed like the kind of thing I should know.
Don't get me wrong. We knew Sofia was at a healthy weight and the kid eats like she isn't sure food will be available tomorrow. She runs and plays sports and prefers to be moving over sitting. But still, I couldn't actually tell you how much of any macro she ate and that bothered me.
Enter the spreadsheet.
I'll be the first to bitch and moan about counting calories for me or anybody else. I honestly hate it. But it is a necessary evil if you really want to have a sound picture of your intake. And the truth is only the first day or two really stink. After that, you find yourself doing more copy and paste than actually looking up more foods.
The goal for Amanda and I was to observe more than to try and influence Sofia's eating habits. So we really didn't bring it up to her and she seemed content to just tell us how many grape tomatoes she grabbed at one time. "
After one week of asking a lot of questions and doing our best to track the inevitable sweets that seem to find their way into her classroom, this is what we found:
Sofia's average daily calorie intake was 1145. After a lot of searching online and getting a bunch of crazy answers, I found that 1000-1300 is a reasonable range for a 6 year old girl. Of course, we know better than to get hung up on calories since it is really the quality of those calories that matters. Still, it is nice to compare against what is out there.
Next up was her fat intake which came in at 36g daily. This is roughly 29% of her daily intake which is right on the money for a solid 40/30/30 macro break down.
Then we hit carbs. Well, they can't all be winners. At an average of 160g a day, Sofia was eating 56% of her calories as carbs. We would like to see this number much closer to 40%, so there is definitely a lot of work to be done here. Especially since these added carbs are coming in at the expense of protein which was a measly 15%.
What About Added Sugar?
Sofia's daily added sugar intake was only 4% of her daily calories. So although her total carbs are high, her added sugar is actually in a very healthy range. In fact, at 4%, she is eating less added sugar daily than well over 90% of all American kids her age. Not that I’m happy about this. Our children have a serious problem with added sugar consumption.
Consider this: One recent study found children ages 4-8 were now consuming, on average, 84g of added sugar daily. That's not total sugar as in the stuff found in a whole piece of fruit (Sofia's total sugar was 40g a day). That is 84g of added sugar from all sorts of things like juice, soda, breakfast waffles with syrup, jelly, and about 1000 other things you didn't know had added sugar in them.
Sofia averaged 12g a day or 14% of the national average. And before anybody thinks or assumes we are some super strict parents who deprive our daughter from treats, just know two of those days included 1/2 of a small chocolate frosty and one of them had a dumdum pop she got from gymnastics.
What is important to realize is just how quickly a child can over-consume added sugar. Take Friday from our week. Sofia always drinks water, so there is no juice, soda, or sweetened beverages in our house. Even still, her blueberry waffles and syrup has a combined 5.5g of added sugar, the 1/2 a small Frosty was 15g, and her PB&J had another 5g of added sugar. This was her highest day at 20g of added sugar which meant her percentage jumped up to 8% for that day.
Had we given her one glass of juice at some point during the day, she would have easily surpassed the American Heart Association and World Health Organization's recommended upper daily limit of 10%. Both organizations stress the importance of staying below 5% for adults and children.
So what did we learn from the week.
1. We need to find ways to make more snacks protein based. This will mostly likely fix the carb/protein imbalance, but it will probably take another round of counting everything to confirm. If I am being completely honest, this is the area I need to work on as well. So it is not shocking to see that Sofia is basically in lock-step with my habits.
2. Despite the higher than desired carbs, Sofia is well below average when it comes to added sugar consumption. As a somebody who has a sugar addiction and now eats 0g daily of added sugar, I am most proud of this accomplishment. I have studied added sugar for over 2 years now and I am 100% confident that it is the #1 nutrition problem our children face.
3. Until we bit the bullet and started counting, we couldn't actually say for certain what our daughter was eating daily. There is something to be said for cold hard data.
4. These are averages. I honestly don't care much about the day to day numbers and really even 1 week in isolation. It is the cumulative of days and weeks that concerns me. Having a Frosty once in awhile or a scoop of ice cream with her grandpa isn't going to ruin her life.
5. We are good parents and we shouldn't beat ourselves up too much. This is really important to remember. Amanda and I need to do better with Sofia's carb intake and that has already started. Not because we are still counting calories, but because we consciously think about her meals and snacks a bit more and offer her higher protein options when she says she is hungry (which is always at her age). If you are looking for more help in getting your child to eat healthy, I recommend our blog "4 Steps to Get Your Children to Eat Healthy."
Easy Step You Can Take to Reduce your Child’s Added Sugar Intake.
Step 1: Don’t do anything until you count all of the calories for a week. To make life easy, you can use the exact same spreadsheet I did by going to this Google Spreadsheet and making a copy of it for your own use.
Step 2: Use online tools such as Fooducate, USDA Food Database, and Google searches. I wouldn’t suggest using MyFitnessPal because the data is user-driven and that means you can find 10 different answers for 40g of grapes. Fooducate in particular, does a good job of estimating added sugar quantities,
Step 2: Do some quick calculations and see how close your child is to eating 40% carbs, 30% fat, and 30% protein. Remember, carbs and protein have 4 calories per gram and fat has 9. So when you are doing the math, you would take the daily average of carbs and then multiply that by 4 to get your total daily calories that came from just carbs. Now divide that number by the total calories for the day to get the correct percentage.
Step 3: Look at the added sugar consumption column. Hopefully you have done your best to accurately count added sugar as a subset of total sugar which is listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel. Sometimes this is an educated guess. But you can use a few quick rules to help you out. If it is something like jelly or maple syrup, simply count all of the sugar as added sugar.
If it is a store bought product like frozen waffles, try looking on Fooducate first to see if they have already done the hard work for you. If it isn’t in their database, try a Google search for the exact food item you bought to see if anything reputable comes up. I
Step 4: If the above doesn’t work, you have to make an educated guess. What I typically do is compare the total sugar against where and how often sugar shows up in the ingredient list. For example, if cane sugar shows up as the 2nd ingredient, chances are the majority of the total sugar is added sugar. As in, they added it to the product to make it taste better. However, if the sugar is listed towards the bottom of the ingredient list, there is a chance it only plays a minor role in the overall sugar amount. When all else fails, err on the side of it being more added sugar than not. This way you know there is no chance you are underestimating the amount.
Also, keep in mind that some foods such as whole fruit do have a higher amount of total sugar, but this is not added sugar. As long as your child is eating the entire fruit and getting the benefits of the fiber and other nutrients, it is OK to skip the added sugar column. However, anything in juice form from orange to apple juice should be added as added sugar. The reason why is you no longer have the benefits of the fiber to slow down absorption and it takes several pieces of fruit and all of the sugar associated with them to make up just one 8oz glass.
Step 5: Now that you have an idea of how much total added sugar your child consumes on an average day, we need to see how that compares to the total average calories per day. Since sugar is a carbohydrate, we again just take the total grams of added sugar and multiply by 4 to get the amount of calories. Then we divide that number by total calories to get the percentage of daily calories.
If it is above 10%
First step is to not freak out. Now that you know actual amount, you can put a plan in place to start reducing it. If you child drinks soda, juice, or any sweetened beverage, this would be the place to start. In fact, you can see the difference one glass can make by going back to your spreadsheet and just taking it out of the lineup to see how far the added sugar drops on that day. Beyond sugary beverages, I would focus on typical problem areas such as breakfast (which most Americans turn into a glorified dessert) and evening snacking. Sometimes it doesn't require a whole restructuring of your child's meals to significantly reduce their added sugar.
If it is below 10%
Congratulations. You are already doing pretty great. Chances are there are a few extra tweaks you can make to get that average even lower. If your child doesn’t drink sweetened beverages, it is time to take a look at snacks and other treats that happened during the week. Are there some better options that would have kept the overall added sugar down? Take my daughter for example. I only gave her ½ of a small frosty because that was plenty of sugar at one time. She still really enjoyed it and knew that after half, she had to wait at least a day before getting the other half. There were no complaints and she happily self-regulates the amount she eats.
If it is below 5%
Fantastic! You are now in a very exclusive group and should be proud of yourself. Some estimates put your child in the 95th percentile for added sugar which means you can feel confident knowing that you child can live the rest of his/her life at this percentage and probably have no issues with weight, acne, teenage wild mood swings, and a bunch of other great benefits. Not to mention a lifetime of not having to worry about a flurry of sugar related problems like CHF, dental issues, cancer, and even alzheimer's.
If it is 0%
Don’t worry. No need to check for a pulse. While rare, your child is now living a life it took me 36 years to get to. What I can tell you though is it is not all doom and gloom. Yes, it was hard to quit all added sugar in my life, but I was also an adult with a lot of deposit slips for my bank of bad habits. Yes, I miss out on a few birthday cakes and pecan pie at Thanksgiving, but I am also a sugar addict. I do not believe there is a choice in the matter anymore. I either don’t eat any added sugar or I try to consume ALL of it. If you child is at 0%, my advice is don’t worry if it occasionally bounces toward 5%. There is a better chance you are setting your child up for success by not eliminating all of it from their diet.
I wrote this blogt because I hope it encourages some of you with children to count their calories for a week. It doesn't have to be anything crazy or elaborate either. You can use one of the hundreds of apps out there or just make a simple spreadsheet like I did. Whatever works is the right solution. Yes, it is a bit annoying. Yes, it takes extra time. But YES, is it 100% worth all of that.
If you would like to read more about my own story and how I quit all added sugar, you can read my blog "5 Suprising Benefits of Giving Up Added Sugar" or you can buy my book "Hello: I'm a Sugar Addict" on Amazon for less than $10. In it, I give you the systems and tools I used to finally find success and stay off all added sugar for over 2 years and counting.