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This Pediatrician Doesn't Sugarcoat It: Keep Kids Away from Sweets

You should not eat sugary foods. It’s that simple. Our bodies don’t need them, our teeth don’t want them, and our brains go haywire when we ingest them.

Still, we shovel in the sweet stuff. While the World Health Organization recommends a diet in which only 5 percent of calories come from sugar, Americans gets an average of 13 percent of our calories from glucose, fructose, honey and corn syrup.

Processed sugar is found in nearly three-quarters of packaged foods sold in this country. And, as we know too well, many of those packages sport cute little cartoon characters on them. Kids are targeted; and once they get a taste, they’re hooked for life. Childhood obesity rates have hovered at 17 percent for the last decade, putting a generation at a greater risk of heart disease, cancer and other ailments than any generation that came before.

So what can we do to get kids off the syrupy sauce? Again, it’s simple: Don’t introduce sugar in the first place.

When babies start using sippy cups, excited parents want to fill that cup with all kinds of exciting flavors: Apple juice! Grape juice! OJ! What will baby love?

Water. Baby would love water. And, really, water is all baby needs. Juice is just sugar, and babies don’t need it. (Yes, diluting it is better, but it is still too much too soon.)

Babies also don’t need ice cream, cupcakes or cotton candy, no matter how cute the Instagram pictures would be.

Instead of starting with sweet flavors, baby’s first foods should consist of vegetables. The greener the better. By getting babies used to broccoli, you cultivate the sense in them that food should taste healthy. This is a lifelong gift that will serve them well into adulthood.

Once they get a taste for veggies, introduce sugar in the form of cut up pieces of fruit. (Yes, they will look at you like, “Where have you been hiding this stuff?” But they’ll forgive you.)

I am a mom myself. When I speak to parents, I know that buttercream frosting and Capri Suns are in all children’s futures. And I don’t believe in denying kids treats on special occasions, such as friends’ birthday parties (even if those parties seem to happen Every. Single. Weekend.)

What I advocate for is keeping kids away from sugar for as long as possible, and then limiting sugar once it is introduced. My daughters know that juice boxes are fair game at birthday parties. But the only drink they bring to school is water. There are no cookies and candies in their lunchbox, and afterschool snacks consist of fruits and veggies. Most nights, if we serve dessert at all, we’ll serve applesauce.

How do we convince our kids that applesauce is a worthy dessert option? Again, it’s simple: we’ve made it the only dessert option. We don’t bake. We don’t buy ice cream or candy. There is no soda in my house.

Some parents scoff at the suggestion that sugar should be scrubbed from the home because they want sugar for themselves. But do they really? Aren’t we all trying to be a bit healthier, fit into our clothes a bit better?

One of the reasons we adults are so addicted to processed foods and sugars is that we grazed on the stuff growing up. If we delay babies’ introduction to sugar and then limit their exposure during those critical cake-and-balloons years, we have a fighting chance at dropping obesity rates and improving the health care trajectories of our kids.

They might stamp their feet a bit now, but I’m confident they’ll eventually toast our efforts to keep sugar at bay – by raising high a refreshing glass of water.

Meet the Author

Leila Yasrebi, MD, FAAP

Specialty: Pediatrics

Focusing on her young patients and their parents, Dr. Yasrebi is always attentive to her patients and delivers quality and compassionate care. She understands the impact she can have on kids and does not take this responsibility lightly. View Bio [+]