Is sugar really as bad as it is made out to be and are our kids getting too much sugar? Before that question can be answered – we need to think of what an average child consumes in a day! Boxed cereals, be it Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes or Coco Pops, are found on just about every breakfast table in South Africa. Many moms give their kids fruit or even yoghurt with their breakfast. A mid-morning snack may be a biscuit with milk and for lunch, a hotdog, pie or sandwich and the day comes to an end with a healthy supper, meat, vegetables, potatoes, etc.
In between children may receive treats, such as a sweet, or a chocolate bar, etc, they may also have fruit juice with meals or in between meals. At virtually every meal, there is sugar. The fact is that sugar is found in just about everything that is consumed and even fruits contain their own natural sugars. We expect to find sugar in biscuits, or sweets, but most brands of yoghurts contain sugar, as does tomato sauce, salad dressing and pies.
Is sugar bad? The answer is no! Kids need sugar. Without sugar they would not be able to function, as sugar is the body’s main source of energy. In a world devoid of sugar, children would not be able to get out of bed, let alone make it through a busy day. However as with everything in life – moderation is essential and problems start when foods high in sugar start replacing healthy foods that do not contain the necessary nutrients.
Kids and Sweets!
You don’t need to be a professor to realise that kids love sweets. Kids don’t just love sweets because they are so tasty and sugary – their bodies actually crave and need the sugar. In fact breast milk is made up of fat, proteins, vitamins, minerals and – sugar.
Sugar is not only responsible for putting the sweetness into foods; it also helps humans to enjoy food in a variety of forms. For instance, sugar adds texture and colour to baked goods, it also gives body to yogurts, and it balances out the acidity in tomato-based foods. When all is said and done, sugar is not the -bad guy’ and should not be avoided, but too much of a good thing is bad and parents need to limit intake and make sure that their kids are enjoying a well-balanced diet (which includes sugar)!
Too much sugar
There is no way to accurately determine just how much sugar is sufficient for a child, as all children differ. There is no measuring spoon that will help parents to decide if there is too much or too little sugar in their child’s diet. Common sense will go a long way in helping parents figure out the balance and playing it by ear will also help to regulate sugar intake.
There are many good reasons to motivate parents to find the perfect balance and these are:
Teeth: If a child’s teeth were ruined by cavities, most would suggest that they eat too many sweets. This is partially correct. However, sugar alone is not responsible for cavities but it does encourage the growth of bacteria that causes cavities. Regular brushing will help stop cavities, but a constant stream of sugar will probably cause cavities. Dentists strongly advise against putting babies down with a bottle of milk (as milk contains sugar). Filling a baby’s bottle up with cola is a definite no-no and if giving fruit juice, dilute it and do not allow the toddler to sip on the juice throughout the day. Fruit contains natural sugars!
Although many studies have confirmed that sugar is not cause hyperactivity in kids, when sugar enters the bloodstream and reaches the brain, it temporarily increases calming neurochemicals, like serotonin. If blood-sugar levels rise too high, the body will respond by manufacturing large doses of insulin, which is a hormone that basically sweeps sugar out of the blood and into body cells. This causes blood-sugar levels to drop so rapidly, that a child may start to feel sluggish or even shaky or dizzy. In response to the low blood-sugar levels, the body will start to crave more sweets and it becomes a vicious cycle of sugar highs and sugar lows
To combat the effect of sugar highs and lows, parents can limit or control the portion sizes (rather than a bag of sweets, give the child one or two at a time), fruit juices can be diluted, and treats that are low in sugar can be given as an alternative. Moms must also ensure that kids eat healthy foods that are high in protein (such as cheese, soya, beans, meat, and nuts) and in fibre (fruits, veggies, whole grains) as these will aid in regulating the rise and fall of blood-sugar levels.
Obesity: Sugar on its own will not make kids overweight. Kid’s weight increases when they take in more calories than they burn. Sugary drinks and treats do supply way more calories than are needed. Consider that a standard canned cold-drink contains as many as ten teaspoons of sugar (totalling 160 calories), and in fact, sweetened fruit drinks contain even more. With kids regularly drinking even one sugary drink per day (whether it is a cold-drink or a tin of fruit juice) their risk of obesity is increased.
Diabetes: Again sugar is not wholly responsible for diabetes. A high-sugar diet can, however, increase a child’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes or the condition known as insulin resistance syndrome. Both can cause the body to become less sensitive to insulin, and both are linked to a wide variety of health problems including, heart disease.
Sugar by any other name is just as sweet
When buying foods it is important to read labels. Parents must know what is in the foods they are feeding to their kids. Don’t be confused by other names given to sugar, such as:
- Sucrose, which is regular white sugar and is found naturally in sugar cane, sugar beets and some fruits have lower amounts of sucrose;
- Fructose is the sweetest sugar, and combines with glucose to form sucrose;
- Glucose is a little less sweet than sucrose;
- Lactose is also known as milk sugar.
A child’s body handles all sugars, both the natural sugars found in fruits and honey and the processed sugars present in sweets in the same way. Sugar is a carbohydrate and it is the body’s primary source of energy. It is essential that parents find the right balance and satisfy their child’s need for foods high in nutrients and foods with sufficient (yet not too much) sugar.
Overcoming sweet addictions
Parents will find it almost impossible to restrict sweets from their kid’s diets and because kids need sugar – cutting out sweets totally is not good. Remember moderation is key and as such parents can find a healthy balance.
Do not reward kids with sweets. Hand out sweets occasionally but try to limit the intake;
Rather than fizzy drinks, give kids fruit juice which contains 100% fruit or water (even better). Read labels carefully. The fruit juice can be diluted with water.
Offer fruit instead of sweets when a child craves something sweet.
Kids love cereals such as Frosted Flakes or other types of high-sugar brands – try to add another lower-sugar, more nutritious cereal (such as Bran flakes) with the Frosties and keep the box. The sugar of the Frosted Flakes will give the bran some sweetness and parents may be able to -trick’ unsuspecting toddlers into believing that they are eating Frosties and nothing else!