Get them a Date: Replacing your Teen’s added sugar with something healthier

Dates are a healthy and nutritious addition to any teenager’s diet Date Blog pic 2Teenagers love sweets. That’s a fact of nature it seems. And while American’s diets are focused on unhealthy food—a trend that dietitians are trying to change—that doesn’t mean that any teenager’s health needs to suffer—now or in the future. Parents can provide teens with plenty of sweet treats without causing them future health problems.

The problem with sugar All that added sugar in the diets of typical teens could increase their risk for heart disease, a new study suggests. That means the soda, candy, and other kinds of junk food that are so easy to buy could be potentially harming to the wellbeing of many kids. After analyzing data from a national health survey, researchers have discovered that the average teenager eats the equivalent of 28 teaspoons of sugar a day. That’s 500 calories’ worth of added sugar each day.

What counts as added sugar Added sugars are calorie-containing sweeteners that are present in most processed foods or beverages. Spotting them on food labels is not the easiest thing to do. Sugar, corn syrup, and high-fructose corn syrup are among the most common added sugars. People easily recognize these forms of added sugar, but there are several less well known sweeteners that many people might not notice on food labels, such as maltose, dextrose, and anhydrous dextrose. Researchers from the CDC and Atlanta’s Emory University have found that  adults whose diets contained large amounts of unhealthy sugars also contained low amounts of  HDL, or good, cholesterol and high amounts of LDL, or bad, cholesterol. Their study, published in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal Circulation, finds the same pattern among teens.

What this might mean for Teens The study shows that the teens who were studied consumed three to five times more sugar than the accepted limit by the American Heart Association (AHA). The AHA considers proper sugar intake to be about 100 calories, or 6 teaspoons, for most women and 150 calories, or 9 teaspoons, for most men. When the researchers examined data on cholesterol levels and other heart disease risk factors among the teens in relation to their added sugar consumption, they found that the teens who consumed the most added sugars had higher cholesterol levels and were prone to insulin resistance—or diabetes. Using Dates in your own cooking A teenager’s healthy habits start with parents. As Dietitians we need to educate parents and kids about healthier food options. Dietitians need parents fighting right alongside them in the battle against children’s obesity. One way to start is cut down the processed foods in kids’ diets, by reminding parents to cook for them and provide healthy snacks and treats on their own. Using dates to replace the sugar in kids’ favorite cookies and treats—is a great way to start getting them on a healthy track. What’s even better is cutting some of those treats out entirely and letting them enjoy the benefits of raw dates. Teaching parents to be more active participants in their kids’ nutritional lives is the only way to get track and away from unhealthy sugars and additives. So if you’re a dietitian trying to reach parents, or a concerned parent trying to reach others, check out the American Dietetic Association’s Kids Eat Right Social Media Campaign. Also, check out some of our great recipes for ideas about how to incorporate Dates into your diet, and those of others.

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