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Should you indulge your child's sweet tooth?

Becoming an Avid Label Investigator

If you want to know the sugar content of what you're feeding your children, you need to take the time to read labels. Encourage your children to do the same. Unfortunately, though, food product labels can sometimes appear to be written in hieroglyphics, so you have to be able to discern what's in pre-packaged foods if you hope to provide a balanced diet for your family.

The sad reality is that the majority of prepared foods targeted to kids are simply loaded with sugar [source: Hitti]. Ingredients are listed in descending order of their percentage, from highest to lowest. The catch is that sugary ingredients are often cleverly disguised.

For example, a popular fat-free "fruit snack," boasting that it's "made with real fruit," offers 100 percent Vitamin C and no preservatives, lists its top four ingredients as: juice from concentrate, corn syrup, sugar and modified corn starch. Not exactly the "breakfast of champions." Even "healthy" snacks, such as a highly rated brand of granola bars, features brown rice syrup and evaporated cane juice crystals as two of its top four ingredients.

Savvy shoppers must be on the lookout for sugar-type ingredients, such as high-fructose corn syrup, corn sweeteners, fruit-juice concentrate, evaporated cane juice, maltodextrin, barley malt, molasses, honey and anything ending in "ose," such as sucrose, glucose, lactose, dextrose and maltose.

If you drink juice, opt for those labeled "100 percent juice." Many pediatricians recommend eating, rather than drinking, whole fruits and supplementing that portion of their diet with pure water [source: WebMD].

Is it wise, then, to prohibit sweets completely?