Added sugar hides in many foods we don’t think of as sweet. Sugar is added to tart, bitter and acidic foods to balance flavors. It improves the texture of baked goods and helps with browning.

High intake of added sugar has been linked to everything from dental cavities to diabetes to heart disease.

Twenty years ago, type 2 diabetes was virtually unheard of in people younger than 30, but rates of diabetes in children and adolescents has skyrocketed. There also has been a significant increase in heart disease risk factors in youth, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

These negative trends largely result from increased childhood obesity, which may be related to sugar intake.

Added sugar is any sweetener added during the processing or preparation of food. There are more than 50 different names for sugars on food labels, so it can get confusing. The most common names include cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, raw sugar, crystal solids and brown rice syrup.

Added sugars contribute excess calories while displacing healthier foods in our children’s diet — a recipe for weight gain. Sugars do not contribute any essential nutrients to our diet. Minimizing added sugars should be a priority for parents. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as avoiding obvious sources of sugar, such as cookies and soda.

Added sugar hides in many foods we don’t think of as sweet. Sugar is added to tart, bitter and acidic foods to balance flavors. It improves the texture of baked goods and helps with browning. Sugar also acts as a preservative and enhances the shelf life of many products.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that children get no more than 10 percent of their total calories a day from added sugar. An simple way to monitor sugar intake is to limit kids between the ages of 2 and 18 to no more than 25 grams – or about six teaspoons – of added sugar per day. Kids under age 2 should not have any added sugar.

Read food labels to identify sources of sugar, and look for the amount of total sugar in the food. This number includes both added sugar and naturally occurring sugar. For example, a cup of skim milk has 13 grams of total sugar — and none of that sugar is added. It will be easier to determine how much added sugar is in foods when the proposed food label changes take effect in 2018. In the meantime, the total sugar number still is useful for comparing similar foods.

According to the American Cancer Society, we get about half of our sugar from sweetened beverages. Sweet treats make up about one-fourth of our sugar intake, and the remaining fourth is from adding sugar ourselves and from hidden sources.

Following are the best ways to decrease sugar in your kids’ diets.

Remove sugar, syrups and honey from the table or countertop.

Cut back or eliminate the sugar or syrup you add to cereals, pancakes, and other foods and beverages.

Switch to a sugar-free beverage. Use of artificial sweeteners is not recommended. Instead, choose beverages that are naturally sugar-free. Make water the drink of choice.

Use fruit as a natural sweetener. Add fruit to cereal, yogurt, pancakes and even water.

Cut the amount of sugar you use in baking. You can decrease sugar by one-third to one-half in most recipes without affecting the outcome. Use spices and extracts, such as cinnamon, ginger or vanilla, to impart sweetness without adding calories.

Don’t switch to sugar substitutes. To wean kids off sugar, you need to retrain their taste buds. Sugar substitutes are even sweeter than sugar and won’t allow naturally sweet foods, such as fruit, to taste like they should.

Compare food labels on favorite foods, and choose brands that have less sugar.

Decrease serving sizes. It’s OK to have dessert or an occasional cookie for a snack, but keep the portions small.

Keep in mind that in addition to cutting back on sugar, you need to make good choices for replacing those foods. If cutting out your favorite breakfast cereal causes you to choose a bagel with cream cheese instead, you will be consuming far more calories and will be missing the better nutrients you would have gotten from the milk in your cereal. If your child will only drink chocolate milk, that is better than no milk at all.