Do you know how much sugar your child eats? Chances are it’s a lot more than you think.
No mom in her right mind would pack her child’s lunch box with nothing but four Tinkies. You probably stick with the classics: maybe peanut butter and jam on whole wheat bread, an apple and a fruit juice. Protein-rich peanut butter, fruit, and fiber-filled bread – that’s perfect, right?
Wrong! Sure, your child would get some nutrients, but she’d also get a whopping 76 grams of sugar. That’s 16 teaspoons of sugar – even more than what’s in those four Tinkies. Shocking, right?
While shockingly there are no specific sugar-consumption recommendations for kids, it is recommended that adults shouldn’t eat more than 40 grams of added sugar per day. Yet your child will eat twice the adult recommendation in this one meal. And you haven’t factored in the sugar on her morning cereal, the cool drink she’ll have after school, and the cookies she’ll munch on after supper.
Most parents have no idea how much sugar their kids eat. So much is added to even “healthy foods” that your child could eat what looks like a pretty balanced diet that’s still full of added sugar.
It’s no new news that sugar is bad for kids. What is eye-opening is just how unhealthy it is – and how much of it children eat despite the health warnings. The average kid under 12 consumes more than 22kg of sugar per year. Even scarier is that a twenty- or thirty something adult’s intake is actually lower (around 19kg). That means your child is gobbling up more sugar than you are, even though her body may be less than half the size of yours.
Babies are born with a preference for bland food and tastes. But because so many foods marketed to kids are super sweet, children may struggle to accept other flavors, such as the taste of many green veggies. “Sugar overload may prevent their taste buds from maturing,” says David Ludwig, MD, Parents adviser and director of the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Children’s Hospital Boston. “Kids won’t develop the ability to appreciate, let alone eat, a variety of foods.”
The result? Sweet foods eventually completely replace healthier food from your child’s diet. Pennsylvania State University researchers found that the more added sugar children had in their diets, the less likely they were to eat vegetables, fruits, and dairy. “It’s basically a state of malnutrition,” says Dr. Ludwig. “Kids eat too many calories but not enough nutrients.”
The effects of sugar overload may not seem obvious now, but it will hurt your child’s health later in life. “Eating too much of it can make kids gain weight, which then puts them at greater risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol – three major contributors to heart disease,” says Dr. Shu.
Today, one in three children are too heavy. As a result, these “adult” conditions strike earlier than ever. For example, less than 5 percent of kids diagnosed with diabetes in 1994 had type 2 (formerly called “adult-onset” diabetes). Today, it’s 30 to 50 percent. “When these problems develop at school instead of middle age, the advanced stage of heart disease tends to occur earlier too,” says Francine Kaufman, director of the Comprehensive Childhood Diabetes Center at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “That means a child with high blood pressure could have a heart attack at 35.”
Help Control Your Kids’ Sweet Tooth
When kids want something sweet, it’s better to offer them something natural like berries and double cream yoghurt. You can even turn these into lollies, or ad a bit of Xylitol and cocoa and make a chocolate mousse.
Remember: The more processed an item is, the more likely it contains added sugar, so make it fresh yourself and have the peace of mind that comes with knowing what is in the food you give to your children.
What about artificial sweeteners?
So your child is nuts for sugar – but you’re not crazy about all those calories and cavities. Are sugar substitutes the answer? There is really no good reason to give them artificially sweetened foods and drinks. It’s smarter to avoid serving unhealthy, processed foods, and then allow for occasional portions of real sugar.
If you really want to use a sugar substitute, think about using a little bit of Xylitol or Stevia, but use in very moderate quantities.
Sweet Makeover Ideas
Instead of: Flavored yogurt
Try: Plain yogurt with mix-ins. Add berries and / or nuts.
Instead of: Canned fruit
Try: Chopping up the fresh fruit especially berries.
Instead of: Sweetened salad dressings
Try: Olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Instead of: Sauces and marinades
Try: A dry spice rub the next time you prep meat for the braai. Sauces and marinades can have up to 8 grams of sugar per tablespoon!
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