Sugar and Your Child

“Sugar is bad for children!” You’ve heard it a million times and you’re determined to do something about it. All the health magazines and parenting guides in the world have cautionary tales about the enemy that is sugar. Parents that you know extol the virtues of healthy snacking and eating right as their children are perfect little angels.

The truth is sugar is virtually omnipresent in all kinds of food aimed at children. Try as you might, if an uncle or auntie comes to visit they will come bearing a chocolate, candy or sugary treat that will excite your child. Enemy or not, sugar is here to stay.

Instead of simply painting sugar in a negative light, it is best to learn more about it. What is the effect of sugar on children? Why do children become “hyperactive”? Are you denying an important part of childhood by cutting sugar from all food? There are always many sides to one story.

How Much is Too Much?

The idea that sugar is bad for children doesn’t come from the nutritional content of sugar but rather the amount of sugar consumed. Most doctors believe that sugar should not be a part of the diet of children under 2 years of age. The American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines state that children between the ages of 2-18 should consume less than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of sugar a day.

The AHA guidelines according to some experts are still quite liberal and perhaps younger children should consume even less than that. It would make sense for parents to set their own target about how much sugar they think their child should consume under this limit. 16 grams of sugar or about 4 teaspoons a day would be an excellent target.

Sugar Audit

With a target in mind, how does one go about removing sugar from a child’s diet? Nutritionally, we must consider that foods with added sugar and foods with natural sugar must be valued differently. Natural sugar occurs in all the foods we know are sweet such as fruits, milk, coconuts and other such produce. Added sugar is usually found, but not limited to, processed food to sweeten to product.

Added sugar has many names such as cane sugar, sucrose (white/brown sugar), glucose, agave/maple/rice syrup, coconut sugar and honey. Remember that added sugar gets into all kinds of other foods and the major culprit here is juices and milkshakes. Fruit juice should not be anything other than a treat on the same level as carbonated soda as they are equally high in sugar content.

Read labels carefully and you won’t be swayed. Food that has less than 2 grams of sugar per 100 grams is fine for your child to eat. Sugar that is consumed in fruit however is different from this rule. Unlike juice, fruit has a lot of fibre that slows down the digestion of sugar and it is great for your child to eat.

Hyperactivity and Good Habits

Too much sugar in a child’s diet can result in all kinds of future diseases and conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and so on. Too much sugar in one meal for a child can lead to sugar shock and hyperactive behaviour.

Too much sugar results in a giant spike in energy, which is followed by a huge crash (sugar shock) and if this turns into a pattern then hyperactive behaviour is possible. Getting your children to eat healthy food and snacks means that sugar must be controlled but not removed.

Kids can enjoy their childhood eating fun fruits, milk and other acceptable sugar sources. One sugary treat a week would be a great compromise because childhood without cookies, cakes, ice cream and chocolate is no fun at all!

As a parent, all you want to do is give your child the best habits to be successful at life and cutting sugar early can really set them for great eating habits as an adult. Let your child have fun but keep the sugar down to levels that are acceptable to you.