How Much Sugar is Recommended for Kids?


We were on the beach when "Mimi" (grandmother) arrived to greet a gaggle of expectant grandchildren. Having driven down from France, she was hot and tired.

As were the marshmallows she was holding in her hand.

My kids swarmed around her like bees to a honey pot.

Gracie, my niece, looked at them with trepidation, unsure of the sticky mess that was being proffered as a rare treat.

"You'll like them!" Her dad reassured her.

"They've got sugar in them!"

Isn't that the truth! Marshmallows definitely have sugar in them and children love anything that contains sugar.

What's the Big Deal About Sugar?

I'm sure you're aware that sugar contributes to children being overweight and obesity.

A little bit of sugar isn't anything to worry about but nowadays sugar is added to just about everything, even things that you wouldn't really expect to have sugar in.

Go check out your tin of baked beans. (In fact, this is a fantastic and really easy  sugar free baked beans recipe.)

And marshmallows don't contain "a bit of sugar", they are essentially just sugar.

So how much sugar is too much? And how are we as busy parents supposed to strike a sensible balance?

Today, Stacey from My Kids Lick the Bowl, is here to tell us all about sugar and kids. Go and check out her site of loads of delicious and easy to make low sugar treat.

I have taken notes of the main points of her talk.

Healthy Eating for Kids Summit

This talk was originally published as part of the Healthy Eating for Kids Summit. If you'd like to view the rest of the talks, you can purchase access to the talks here.

Prevalence of Children Overweight or Obese

We are seeing a rise in weight problems in children.

  • USA 33%
  • NZ 32%
  • UK 22-33%
  • Australia 25%

Kids Sugar Intake

Most children consume more than the recommended amount of sugar.

  • NZ 32 teaspoons
  • USA: 1-3 yrs: 12 teaspoons
  • 4-8 years: 21 teaspoons
  • 14-18 years: 34 teaspoons

In NZ 15 of those teaspoons are sucrose (aka table sugar.)

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How Much Sugar is OK for Kids?

WHO Sugar Guidelines 2015 (adults and children):

The full guidelines are 59 pages long, you can find them here if you'd like to read them.

In summary the WHO recommends:

  • <10% of total energy from added sugar
  • <5% may provide added health benefits

This excludes sugars that are naturally occurring in fruit and vegetables.

What is an "Added Sugar"?

Added sugar or "free sugar" is sugar that is added to a recipe or product (e.g. table sugar or fructose syrup.)

Added sugar also includes any way of modifying fresh fruit and vegetables. E.g. adding fruit juice to sweeten something counts as added sugar.

How Much Added Sugar in Teaspoons can My Child Eat Per Day?

  • 1 year old: 2-5 teaspoons
  • 2 year old: 3-6 teaspoons
  • 5 year old: 4-8 teaspoons
  • 10 year old: 5-11 teaspoons

The American Heart Foundation Guidelines to Sugar

The AHA guidelines are a mere 19 pages. You can read them in full here (go to the "download PDF").

In summary the AHA recommend:

2-18 year olds: less than 25 grams of added sugar a day.

This equates to 6 teaspoons.

Most Children Are Eating Too Much Sugar Everyday!

What is the Most Healthy Sugar?


Sugars are simple molecules of carbohydrates. (Either "monosaccharides" or "disaccharides" meaning they have 1 or 2 molecules accordingly.)

Examples of monosaccharides are glucose,  fructose and galactose.

Sucrose (table sugar) is a disaccharide that is made up of glucose and fructose.

Our bodies metabolise all these simple sugars in a similar way.

Although different types of sugar are treated differently in regards to processing (e.g. some of them are less refined than others) the "sugar molecules" are the same in all sugars.

Examples of "Different" Sugars

The chemical structure of different sugars is the same.

For example, cane sugar, sugar beet, coconut sugar and maple syrup are all sucrose a disaccharide made up of glucose and fructose.

Honey is made up of the mono saccharides glucose and fructose (i.e. they aren't joined up to form a disaccharide.)

You Might Like: 10 Things Most Kids Don't Know About their Mom

Use the Best Sugar for the Occasion

Although using less refined sugars has the benefit of it being less refined it doesn't give you less sugar.

ALL of these sugars count as added sugars.

Use whichever sugar you think tastes best for that recipe but try to use the least amount possible.

What About Sugar in Fruit?

The sugar most often found in fruit is fructose. If it has been extracted into, for example, high fructose corn syrup, it is considered an added sugar.

If fructose is eaten as part of an entire fruit or vegetable (with all those other added nutrients and fibre) it doesn't count as added sugar.

What About Sugar in Diary?

Lactose is a naturally occurring sugar found in diary products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt and breast milk.

Diary products (with no other added sugar) don't count as added sugar.

However, it's important to look at the label as lots of yogurts have sucrose (or another form of sugar) added to them.

Toddler boy eating ice cream.  #toddler #fussyeater #fussytoddler #toddlerwonteat #pickyeater #parenting #positiveparenting #healthykids #preschooler #parenting #parentingtoddler #sugar #sugarfortoddlers

What About Sugar in Dried Fruit?

Although dried fruit doesn't count as "added fruit" it is high in sugar. 

A portion of dried fruit is equivalent of 2 portions of fresh fruit.

For example, a small handful of raisins is equal to 2 small handfuls of grapes.

In a small box of raisins, you'll find roughly 32 raisins which is the same as 32 grapes. (Grapes are one of fruits with the highest sugar content.)

You don't need to exclude dried fruit (in fact, they're a great alternative to candy and other shop bought treats that have very high contents of sugar). 

You do need to be aware of how much sugar they contain so that you don't offer them exclusively instead of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Related: How to Stop Kids Preferring Snacks to Regular Meals

What about Sugar in Drinks?

Drinks are one of the biggest contributors of sugar in kids diets.

In New Zealand, 25% of kid's sugar intake is from what they drink.

One of the easiest ways to reduce sugar in your kid's diet is to cut out sugared drinks.

Here's a list of average sugar content by drink:

  • Powdered cordial (brand dependent): 5.5 teaspoons
  • Orange Juice: 5 teaspoons
  • Cola: 6.25 teaspoons
  • Sports drinks (brand dependent): 3.5 teaspoons
  • Plain milk: 0 teaspoons
  • Flavoured milk (brand dependent): 4 teaspoons
  • Water: 0 teaspoons
  • Black current drink: 6 teaspoons

The best drink for your kids is water for children over the age of 1, with the occasional glass of milk.

Another alternative to water is "mint tea" just had boiling water to some fresh mint and wait for it to cool. Serve as it is. It doesn't need honey or sweetener!

Related: 5 Fun Ways to Help Your Child Drink Water

Related: A Simple, Healthier Alternative to Soda

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How to Tell How Much Sugar is in a Product by Reading the Label

In the ingredients section, the ingredients are listed from highest proportion to lowest proportion.

There is most of the ingredient that comes first, then less of the second etc.

If sugar (or one of its many names) appears in the first 3 ingredients, it's probably a high sugar product.

Sometimes you'll find that it is listed twice under two different names!

Sugar Hides Under Many Names

  1. Agave Nectare
  2. Beet sugar
  3. Blackstrap molasses
  4. Brown sugar
  5. Buttered syrup
  6. Cane juice crystals
  7. Cane sugar
  8. Caramel
  9. Carob syrup
  10. Castor sugar
  11. Coconut Sugar
  12. Concentrated fruit juice (insert fruit of choice)
  13. Confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
  14. Corn Syrup
  15. Date sugar
  16. Demerara sugar
  17. Dextrin
  18. Dextrose
  19. Evaporated cane juice
  20. Florida crystals
  21. Fruit Juice
  22. Fruit juice concentrate
  23. Fruit Paste
  24. Glucose
  25. Golden sugar
  26. Golden syrup
  27. Grape sugar
  28. Honey
  29. High Fructose Corn Syrup
  30. Icing sugar
  31. Invert sugar
  32. Maltodextrin
  33. Maltose
  34. Maple Syrup
  35. Molasses
  36. Muscovado sugar
  37. Organic sugar
  38. Palm sugar
  39. Panela sugar
  40. Raw sugar
  41. Refiner's syrup
  42. Rice syrup
  43. Sorghum syrup
  44. Sucanat
  45. Sucrose
  46. Treacle 
  47. Turbinado sugar
  48. White Sugar
  49. Yellow sugar

Words that Ending in -"ose" that Mean Sugar

  1. Dextrose
  2. Maltose
  3. Sucrose
  4. Glucose
  5. Fructose

Words that Ending in "-trin" that Mean Sugar

  1. Dextrin
  2. Maltodextrin

A boy and a girl eating ice cream.  #toddler #fussyeater #fussytoddler #toddlerwonteat #pickyeater #parenting #positiveparenting #healthykids #preschooler #parenting #parentingtoddler #sugar #sugarfortoddlers

Healthy Eating for Kids Summit

Check out the other talks in the summit here.


It's Not About Eating NO Sugar

Healthy eating is about striking a balance in what we eat and what we offer our children to eat.

You don't have to exclude sugar entirely from your diet, but it is wise to become aware of which products contain sugar and find alternatives.

To find more of Stacey's post and her fabulous "lower sugar" recipes, go to My Kids Lick the Bowl.


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