Sugar is a carbohydrate and is found in many foods and drinks. The intense sweetness that sugar provides means that many more of us are adding it to our snacks or meals or buying products that are high in it. Our taste buds adapt to sugar so the more we consume, the more we start to need to add to taste the same sweetness.
As many more foods have become available over recent years, we are consuming more and more sugar but this is not necessarily good for us. Excess sugar can lead to weight gain and problems with dental health.
Sugar and Weight Gain
Although the body needs carbohydrates as a source of energy, when too many calories are consumed, and are not burnt off this can lead to weight gain. If you consume too many high sugar foods you may struggle to maintain a healthy weight. This applies equally to children. If children consume too many high sugar foods they could store excess energy as fat. Children who are overweight also have a much higher risk of being overweight later in life so staying at a healthy weight is very important for them.
Sugar is not necessarily ‘bad’ thing but it contains a lot of energy without any real nutrients. For example a can (12 fl oz) of regular cola contains approximately 6.5 teaspoons of sugar and no vitamins or minerals but a glass (8 fl oz) of skim milk contains only 2.5 teaspoons of sugar and is a good source of protein, calcium and vitamin D. If you choose the cola you get energy but no value from it. The milk is a much better choice as it gives you energy and nutrients. If a child fills up on items high in sugar they may limit the amount of nutrient dense foods that they consume.
Sugar and Dental Health
Sugar is known to play a role in dental health as sugar allows bacteria to feed and produces dental caries. A high sugar diet could lead to a much higher risk of dental caries and the treatment that is needed for these (e.g. fillings). This applies to sugar from both food and fluid. If your child does have a high sugar food ask them to rinse with water afterwards and ensure that they brush and floss at least two times a day.
How much Sugar is in our Food?
It may surprise you to know just how much sugar is in the food that your children eat;
- Chocolate bar 1 bar 1.5oz = 5 teaspoons of sugar
- A serve of 10 large jelly beans = 4 teaspoons of sugar
- 10 gummy bears = 13g sugar = 2.5 teaspoons of sugar
- 1 liquorice twist (2 vines) = 3 teaspoons of sugar
- 1x 12oz milkshake = 12 teaspoons of sugar
- 1 strawberry sundae 6.3oz = 9 teaspoons of sugar
- 1 cup (9.1oz) of fresh orange juice = 4.5 teaspoons of sugar
- 3oz of caramel coated popcorn = 9 teaspoons of sugar
Fruit can often be blamed for having high sugar content but it is actually much lower than many processed food products (and contains nutrients). One small orange (3.4oz) has only 2 teaspoons of sugar, whereas 1 cup of raw strawberry halves (5.4oz) has 1.5 teaspoons of sugar.
So How can you Curb sugar from your Kids Diet?
In the first instance make this a gradual process – your children may not accept a full assault of changes all of a sudden. Start with a couple of changes and when they are used to these try a few more. If your children are old enough to understand about food and health explain to them why you are trying to reduce the amount of sugar your family eats. As our taste buds adapt a food may not taste as sweet as you would like but after a couple of weeks it will seem sweet enough.
Simple ways you can curb sugar from your kids’ diet includes
- Enforce that water and milk are the drinks of choice. Sodas, sports drinks and energy drinks should be kept for special occasions only
- Dilute fruit juice with water and read the label of your fruit juice to check if it contains added sugar
- Read food labels and check for added sugar. It may not simply say ‘sugar’ so look out for these terms; raw sugar, sucrose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, lactose, golden syrup, corn syrup, treacle, honey, malt, malt extract, molasses, and palm sugar
- Save biscuits and cakes for special occasions
- Use fruit as a treat instead of chocolate or candy
- If you have time make more food at home, especially items like cakes or loaves as you can control the amount of sugar that you use
- Avoid adding sugar to homemade drinks like hot chocolate or milkshakes
- If you are hosting a special occasion ensure that you provide a range of non sugary options e.g. fruit, vegetable sticks with hummus, club sandwiches, water, milk, diluted fruit juice, low sugar yoghurt and plain popcorn.
The amount of sugar that children consume is too high but you can make changes to curb how much sugar your kids eat. If your children eat less sugar they are more likely to maintain a healthy weight, have less dental problems and consume more nutrients. Overall you will have a healthier, more energetic child!