Should you indulge your child's sweet tooth?

Is sugar really all that bad?

Sugars and starches are important carbohydrates, key building blocks of a well-rounded diet. But there's a big difference between natural sugars found in organic foods, such as fruit, and refined or processed sugar. The latter has absolutely no nutritional value, and little dietary value other than making boring foods a bit more palatable. It contains no vitamins and no minerals. It is, essentially, empty calories. And according to some estimates, those "empty" calories can make up more than a quarter of the daily caloric intake of the average teenager.

Now, consider the importance of nutrition, especially to a growing child. Think about how critical a healthy diet is to his or her development, both physically and mentally. Then ask yourself if you really want to allocate a large portion of their diet to a product that provides no benefit. Kids become overweight simply because they consume more calories than they burn, leading to weight gain.

Again, the key is moderation. That holds true for both natural and refined sugars, from dried fruits to candy bars to soft drinks. While an average 12-ounce can of soda (340.2 grams) contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar and 160 calories, some natural fruit juices can have roughly the same amount. And remember, that 12-ounce soda is going to pack a much bigger sugar wallop for a 60-pound (27-kilogram) youngster compared to a 170-pound (77-kilogram) adult [source: Scott].

The same can be said for many popular sports and energy drinks. While these are marketed toward athletes as recovery and rehydration drinks, they can also supply an overabundance of calories if the consumer is more sedentary.

Where do you find the sugar?