I’m genuinely passionate and interested in all things nutrition-related, and sugar in particular, is the area that I get questioned about the most by parents in my clinic and at workshops.
Refined sugar regularly receives bad press, but despite what you may have read or heard, I believe there’s nothing wrong with a little sweetness in your child’s diet. With a few simple tweaks to some of your favourite recipes, your family can still enjoy these types of foods in moderation.
So, why has sugar become so demonised? The short answer is this – as our food supply has changed, we’ve unknowingly begun to consume too much sugar that is often hidden in processed foods once considered healthy. It’s our family’s staples that are now one of the major culprits when it comes to the increase of sugar in our kids’ diets.
Daily food items such as fruit juice, fruit spreads, muesli bars, soups, pasta sauce, meat and chicken marinades, yoghurts, bread and cereals all have significant quantities of hidden refined sugar. We often expect to find sugar in cakes, biscuits and treats, however it’s the sugar hidden and present in our family’s staples that pose the biggest problem.
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Nutrition labels on packaged foods don’t always help us to navigate the processed sugar minefield, as different types of sugars are usually disguised or listed together as one component under the label ‘sugar’. Because of this, it’s important to look closely at the ingredients list to understand what type of sugar is in your child’s favourite foods, identify its many hidden names and look for non-processed healthier alternatives. Some hidden names include: corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, maltodextrin and glucose. I feature a comprehensive list on page 67 of my book.
Children aged two to five years typically consume around 13 teaspoons of added sugars per day. By the time a child is six to 11 years old, average sugar consumption skyrockets to around 19 teaspoons a day – the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for young children (based on WHO 2015 guidelines for optimal health) is between three to six teaspoons of added sugar per day.
This can become challenging when you realise a cup of store-bought orange juice can contain up to 24 grams of sugar (six teaspoons) and a single serve of breakfast cereal can contain around 12 grams of sugar (three teaspoons) – so our kids are eating two to three times the recommended daily intake – and that’s just at breakfast! An average squeezie yoghurt can contain four to five teaspoons of added sugar, and it’s not uncommon for children to have one for recess and one after school which contributes between 35-70 teaspoons of sugar a week (this is something that I see regularly in my clinic).