Excess sugar lurks in kids' meals at restaurant...
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Mar 06, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Excess sugar lurks in kids' meals at restaurant chains, U of T researchers say

In a new study, University of Toronto researchers report that half of kids’ meals served at chain restaurants in Canada contain more added sugars than what the World Health Organization recommends.

OurWindsor.Ca

A cherry spiked Shirley Temple. A sundae topped with swirls of chocolate sauce. A chilly glass of root beer.

Parents will easily spot these sugary treats on kids’ menus.

But Toronto researchers warn that added sugars also lurk in other, less obvious foods, including saucy barbecue ribs, salads covered in honey mustard dressing and that perennial childhood favourite, sweet and sour dipping sauce.

In a new study, University of Toronto researchers report that half of kids’ meals served at chain restaurants in Canada contain more added sugars than what the World Health Organization recommends for optimal health.

On Wednesday, the global agency published final guidelines on added sugars, urging people to limit their intake to less than 10 per cent of total daily calories, and below 5 per cent, if possible, for additional health benefits.

Adults and children would need to consume fewer than six teaspoons of added sugars a day to meet the 5 per cent guideline.

Mary Scourboutakos, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto’s department, says she was surprised by the amount of added sugars in some kids’ meals — and the wide variation between meals.

“For many meals, there were no added sugars whatsoever,” she says, noting that restaurants have made strides in offering healthier options on kids’ menus, such as milk instead of soda pop and fresh fruit instead of ice cream.

“On the other hand, we saw some meals with more than 100 grams of added sugars.”

That’s the equivalent of 25 teaspoons of sugar and more than four times the WHO’s recommendation to limit added sugars to below 5 per cent of daily calories.

“Even in children, consuming too much added sugars may put them at increased risk for heart disease,” Scourboutakos says.

More than 3,100 kids’ meal combinations from 17 Canadian chain restaurants were included in the analysis, which was published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports.

Scourboutakos found that one of every five meals exceeded the WHO’s recommendation to limit added sugars to 10 per cent of daily calories — the equivalent of about 13 teaspoons of sugar.

But when compared to the stricter recommendation — limiting added sugars to 5 per cent of daily calories — half of the meals exceeded the guideline.

Sugary drinks were the main culprit, some containing up to 17 teaspoons of sugar.

But Scourboutakos says condiments, including dipping sauces, sandwich spreads and salad dressings, also contained high amounts of added sugars.

“A rib entrée could contain half of days’ worth of added sugars,” she says.

“The important message for parents here is that when you are eating out, and it’s not necessarily a treat meal, if you’re not choosing what is the most obvious healthy choice, your child may be getting a days’ worth of added sugars.”

Nutrition experts say they welcome research conducted on Canadian restaurants, which can then be used to inform public health policy.

“Any kind of awareness towards the amount of sugars in our food products is important,” says Danielle Battram, an associate professor in the division of food and nutritional sciences at Brescia University College, located in London, Ont.

While many people have received the message to cut back on sugary beverages, not enough people are aware that sauces can pack an alarming amount of sugar, says Battram, who is also a registered dietitian.

She says nutrition experts, schools and government all play a role in educating Canadians about healthy food choices. And, as Canadians become more aware, they can put pressure on the food and restaurant industry to offer a wider range of healthy options.

“Industry will respond if there is demand,” she says, noting that in recent years the restaurant industry has improved the nutritional value of kids’ meals.

“Allowing a fruit instead of a brownie, for example. Apple slices instead of fries. Replacing soda with milk. These are all good options.”

Toronto Star

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