Nutritionist Gabriela Peacock gives us the low-down on children and sugar, with some top tips for making the right choices.
Sugar: tasty, sweet and scrumptious. Many of us can admit to having a sweet tooth and are guilty of consuming more than what is recommended as part of a “healthy balanced diet”, but how much sugar should our children be having and what should we look out for?
There are two types of sugars that occur in foods: natural and un-natural/added. Sugars occur naturally in fruit and milk. Natural sugars found in milk are called lactose and those in fresh fruits are called fructose. The sugars found in fruit juice and in cakes, biscuits, sweets, squash and soft drinks are the un-natural ones.
It is recommended that children do not have too much added sugar (or products containing sugar):
– Preschool children should not consume more than 4 teaspoons of added sugar per day
– Children aged 4-8 years should not consume more than 3 teaspoons of added sugar per day
– Pre-teen and teenagers should have no more than 5-8 teaspoons per day
Where are you hiding?
Processed foods and refined carbohydrates are often stacked full of added sugars. Look out for:
- Biscuits, cakes & pastries
- White rice & white bread
- Prepared foods & sauces e.g. ketchup and baked beans
- Soft drinks
- Sweets & snack bars
- Yoghurts – natural, unflavoured yoghurts are fine as they contain the natural sugar lactose. Flavoured yoghurts contain a significant amount of sugar.
Careful… They are also added to processed foods as a flavour enhancer, to preserve, as a balancing agent and as a bulking agent.
More than just tooth decay…
Excess sugar consumption is linked to tooth decay. This occurs as a result of sugar providing a food source for oral bacteria, which in turn proliferate and cause dental cavities. But aside from the bad teeth, excessive consumption of the sweet stuff has been linked to:
- Overall poor dietary intake: sugars provide energy but are generally devoid of other nourishment or vitamins and minerals. Essentially they are a source of ‘empty calories’.
- Increased body fat: although not the cause of all weight gain, too much sugar may lead to stored fat.
- Hyperactivity in children: eating too many sugary items can cause swings in blood sugar levels which in some children leads to behavioural problems.
Not so “healthy” sugars
Contrary to popular belief, there is no form of healthier added sugar. Honey, molasses, agave syrup/nectar, cane juice and natural fruit sugars have no nutritional advantage over the white stuff.
Top tips from Gabriela:
- Read the ingredients list. Get shopping savvy and take time to read the backs of packets. The food industry must list the ingredients in order of highest content. If sugars, syrups or honeys are high on the list, the overall sugar content will high.
- Look for the carbohydrates (of which sugars) figure in the nutrition label.
Over 15g of total sugars per 100g = HIGH
- Caution with fruit juices: limit to just one portion per day and choose freshly squeezed juices or smoothies that contain fibre, vitamins and minerals. Dilute fruit drinks for children to further reduce sugar content.
- Avoid corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fructose sweetener or dextrin. All of these are artificial sweeteners which are not recommended.
- Ensure desserts, cakes and confectionary are occasional treats and not everyday occurrences.
Bake homemade cakes and snacks for your kids so you can monitor their sugar intake. Opt for natural yoghurt with added fruit/berries. Use fruits such as bananas, apples and dates as alternative sources of sugar.
- Choose whole, natural foods. That way you know there are no added sugars! Whole foods will provide all the nutrients a growing child needs.
- Choose wholegrain, sugar free cereals. Children’s cereals are often coated in sugar.