Where sugar might be hiding in your child's food

Story highlights

  • Sugar could be sneaking into children's diets in foods that appear healthy
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests cutting sugary beverages and sweets to curb childhood obesity

(CNN)Trading cookies and candy for yogurt and granola bars may not be as healthy as parents believe. In fact, some food marketed to children and parents contains more sugar than desserts on grocery shelves.

New recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest sugary beverages and sweets be limited to reduce a child's risk for obesity , an epidemic that has more than doubled in the last 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But some experts suggest also looking at less obvious sources of sugar, many of which children are eating for go-to snacks and breakfast.
    Sugar in processed foods is a big problem for Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist who runs a weight management clinic for children and families at the University of California, San Francisco.
    Some products that appear healthy are actually high in sugar to make them more tasty, and low in fiber to extend shelf life, said Lustig, who authored the book "Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease."
    On average, Americans consume 19.5 teaspoons of added sugar per day, and "kids consume even more," according to Lustig.
    While the World Health Organization recommends a person with a 2,000 calorie diet limit sugar intake to 12.5 or 6.25 teaspoons of free sugars, parents don't need to be "sugar-terrified," physician nutrition specialist Dr. Melina Jampolis said.
    Instead, parents should be aware of hidden sugar content in kid-friendly products. Most labels don't distinguish between "added" sugars and natural sugars, which naturally occur as fructose in fruit and lactose in dairy, so this could require a bit of detective work.
    First, parents can look beyond nutrition labels.
    If "it has 12 grams of sugar then you have to look at the ingredient list. If it just says apple and water, then it has no added sugar," Jampolis said.
    In addition, the American Heart Association suggests looking for ingredients ending in "ose" or other names for sugar such as molasses, cane sugar or honey.
    Parents can search USDA nutrient content online as well as in grocery stores, and while it may be time-consuming for parents to compare sugar between brands, there is good news: "Once you have your arsenal of products," said Jampolis, "you only have to do your comparison once."
    Eating natural, unprocessed, whole foods is the best way to avoid hidden sugars. With an apple, you may decide between organic and non-organic, but you don't have to deal with labels.
    "An apple is going to be more satisfying than apple sauce, more satisfying than apple juice," Jampolis said.
    In the long run, eating whole foods -- and picking products with lower sugar content -- could make a big difference for your child.
    "Even 4 grams of sugar makes a difference. It may be only 7 grams versus 11," in terms of product comparison "But if you're making five choices a day, that's 20 grams of sugar you're saving," said Jampolis.
    Need a place to start your research? Here's a guide to foods for children that sometimes contain a surprising amount of sugar.

    Yogurt

    Yogurt touts benefits such as calcium and contains natural sugar from lactose. But parents should look closely at brands marketed toward kids. American products are usually flavored and sugared.
    "What is yogurt? Sour milk," Lustig said. "It's supposed to be sour. Except in America, where it is des