September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. At the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society we’re daring to improve the quality of life for every child with blood cancer, daring to dream of them thriving. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) recognizes kids are different and their blood cancers need to be treated differently, so we are daring to change the paradigm of treatment and care of pediatric blood cancers. Find more information about the initiative: https://www.lls.org/dare-to-dream
Children, Added Sugars, & Cancer Treatment
Many people are confused about the role of sugar in a healthy diet for children. Should all sugar be eliminated? Is there an acceptable amount? According to the American Heart Association, children ages 2-18 should have less than 25 grams of added sugars per day and drink no more than one 8-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage per week.
This recommendation can be challenging for any child/teen to follow, but it can be especially hard when a child is undergoing cancer treatment. For example, many children receive steroids as a part of their treatment plan. A common side effect of steroids is increased appetite, which may cause children to crave food/beverages with added sugars.
It is important to be mindful of how much added sugars are in the diet because eating large amounts of added sugars can cause weight gain, increase blood sugars, increase inflammation in the body, as well as increase the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease, and dental cavities.
Common Foods with Added Sugars
If given the choice, many children and teens will choose to replace healthy foods with sugary foods. This can result in children missing out on valuable nutrients that are found in a balanced diet.
Kids and teens will often choose soda, fruit flavored drinks, sports drinks, cakes, cookies, and sugary cereals. Other common sources of added sugar are energy drinks, commercially flavored waters, candy, brownies, pies, doughnuts, sweet rolls, pastries, ice cream, pudding, candy, jams, syrups, and sweet toppings.
Most sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sodas, have 20-35 grams of sugar per serving! Here is a short list of kid-preferred foods and the amount of added sugars they contain:
- pieces of candy corn = 16 grams of added sugar
- 5 chocolate kisses = 13 grams of added sugar
- 1 glazed donut = 12 grams of added sugar
- 1 packet flavored oatmeal = 10 grams of added sugar
- 1 cup frosted flakes cereal = 12 grams of added sugar
- 2 chocolate-sandwich cookies = 13 grams of added sugar
- 12 ounce can soda = 39 grams of added sugar
- 20 ounce sports drink = 36 grams of added sugar
Natural vs. Added sugars – There is a Difference!
Naturally occurring sugars such as those found in whole pieces of fruit, some vegetables (e.g., potatoes, corn, peas), or plain dairy products are not added sugars. These foods contain natural sugar and play an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. So, keep eating those apples, berries, peaches, and oranges!
Whole pieces of fruit provide fiber which helps to evenly distribute blood sugars compared to the “sugar high” (quick spike in blood sugar) that can occur when drinking sweetened beverages or eating candy.
Added sugars include any syrups or sweeteners added to a food. Foods with added sugars will almost always be processed or packaged foods.
Reading Food Labels
The nutrition facts label contains an “added sugar” . After looking at several food labels, you may be surprised to find how many processed foods contain added sugars. For more detailed information about reading the food label, click here.
Tips for Decreasing Added Sugars in the Diet
- Offer water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages. If you like flavored beverages, try adding lemon, cucumber & mint, or berries for an infused flavor.
- Offer Club Soda or Seltzer Water for a carbonated drink instead of a regular soda.
- Offer fruit as a dessert instead of cakes, pies, cookies, doughnuts, ice cream, or candy. Fall and winter are approaching, click here to see a list of seasonal fruits.
- Offer plain dairy products instead of flavored milk/dairy (chocolate milk, sweetened yogurts). Add fresh fruit on top of plain yogurt for natural sweetness.
- Offer unsweetened apple sauce instead of sweetened applesauce.
- Offer whole foods instead of processed .
- Think ahead and pack snack foods to go, such as fruits, vegetables, trail mix and nuts. This may keep you from grabbing a snack from the candy aisle or vending machine.
Kristen Miller, MS, RD, CSP, CLEC
Kristen has been a pediatric registered dietitian for 8 years and works as an inpatient oncology dietitian at CHOC Children’s Hospital in Orange County, CA. She cherishes the connections she makes with her patients and families, and is in constant awe of their strength and resilience. In her free time, she enjoys camping, hiking, and going to the beach with her husband and kids.