Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Food Police: Failing!

At age 11, my son barely weighs 90 pounds. He's moderately active, plays baseball three seasons of the year, plays outside with friends. So, I figure I'm not doing so bad as the food and exercise police, right?!?

I decided to find out how I stack up as "the nutritional gatekeeper" that author Brian Wansick (Mindless Eating) identifies as the person in charge of family food choices. So I piled the kitchen table high with boxes, bags, bottles and packages. Here is a day's menu:

Breakfast: buttered toast or kids cereal, small handful of peanuts, ½ banana or apple, ½ cup of 1% milk
Lunch: 6 oz. low-fat yogurt or ½ cup sweetened applesauce, snack crackers, 1 pack fruit snacks, bottle of water
Snack: handful of red grapes, or celery stalk with 1 tbsp. peanut butter, toaster tart, ½ cup milk
Dinner: 6 homemade chicken nuggets with 1 tbsp. catsup, ½ cup mashed potatoes with butter, ¼ cup peas
Dessert or snack: 4 Oreos and ½ cup milk or ½ cup ice cream
During baseball season: one 20 oz. sports drink

I picked just one ingredient -- sugar -- to gauge how I was doing. On food labels, ingredients are listed by weight, in grams. Four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon. Counting only the added sugars—that is, not foods’ natural sugars—here’s the total:

Breakfast: 2 ¼ -5 ½ tsps.
Lunch: 8-8 ½ tsps.
Snack: 6 ½ tsp.
Dinner: 1 tsp.
Desserts or snack: 6 ½ tsps.
Sports drink: 8 ¾ tsps.

TOTAL: 23-37 teaspoons

Pretty bad, huh? And Dr. Wansink estimates that parents control only 72 percent of a child’s diet. Add in birthday cupcakes, pizza parties, lunch trades, team celebrations and other splurges, and his total could increase by almost 30 percent. At its worst, that’s about 48 teaspoons a day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says to eat no more than 10 teaspoons of added sugar a day!

I took out a measuring cup. Those 48 teaspoons pile up to more than a cup of sugar. Going from bad to worse, I converted the sugar into calories, 16 calories per teaspoon. The total now? About 770 calories!

Estimate that a child under age 14 should consume 1,000 calories a day, plus 100 calories per year of age. That means my son's diet is about 2,100 calories a day. So, if his daily calorie count approximates this figure, he’s getting about 35 percent of his calories from sugar!

I'm not even talking about the fat and sodium in his diet, which I can see is considerable. It’s clear that we have some work to do before we're nominated for Best Nutritional Gatekeeper!


  1. It's really amazing how much sugar sneaks into foods, isn't it?

  2. I'm making some changes already. I put unsweetened tubs of applesauce in his lunch now. Fruit snacks are out. I'm buying G2 instead of Gatorade. (One coach is a doctor and says the fake sugar isn't harmful, as long as we keep it to game days, not a daily drink.) The switch from ice cream to frozen yogurt is going to be a harder sell!