Ah, sugar. One moment it’s your energy-boosting friend – the next it’s your post-sugar-high crashing enemy.
We all know too much sugar isn’t good for us, and if you’ve got kids, it’s yet another thing to worry about. That’s why most of us try to keep the sugary treats to a minimum. However, a closer look at an average diet shows that there are still some sneaky sugars getting into our day-to-day.
For most of us, and certainly for kids, quitting sugar isn’t an option. But by making a few small changes you can cut down your family’s sugar intake dramatically.
The aim? To meet the World Health Organisation‘s recommendation of having no more than 10 percent of your daily kilojoules come from unnecessary or “free” sugar. “Free” sugars are any added sugars (like white, brown and raw) as well as the sugar in honey, syrups and fruit juices. Thankfully the sugar found in whole fruit does not count.
For an average adult that means consuming less than 55 grams – 13 teaspoons of “free” sugar a day. For kids, this can vary wildly based on their age, gender and how many sports they play. It’s best to keep in mind that if your child eats less than you, they should also be eating less sugar.
I made some swaps in my own life, and here’s what I found:
1. Swap: Jam and butter on white bread.
For: Natural peanut butter on wholegrain bread.
Saved: 6g sugar per serve.
Anyone whose go-to brekkie is jam on toast regrets it every day around 10am. About two hours after breakfast, you’ll be starving again and looking to the office biscuit jar to get you through until lunchtime. It’s no different for kids, who need a nutritious breakfast to get the best start to their day. The morning slump isn’t surprising when you discover two slices of bread with jam and butter or margarine adds to about 11g of sugar for very little fibre or protein to keep kids or adults fuller for longer.
Making the switch to natural peanut butter on wholegrain bread took my brekkie to less than 5g of sugar per serve but also offered 15g of protein and 6g fibre. If your littlies still want some sweetness in the morning, adding a chopped-up banana to their peanut butter on toast is a great way to do it.
2. Swap: Blueberry swirl yoghurt.
For: Greek yoghurt with coconut and blueberries.
Saved 12g sugar.
Yoghurt is a tasty, healthy treat, but often kids' favourite yoghurts taste so sweet for a reason. I, for one, was floored to see the sugar count was a whopping 27g (almost seven teaspoons) per 160g tub! There's no way of telling from the nutritional label whether this is from added sugar (or fruit juice concentrate) or natural milk sugar. The best way to make sure your kid's favourite snack is not going to send them on a sugar high is to flavour it yourself - and it's so easy.
A bowl of 160g full-fat Greek yoghurt, a tablespoon of shredded coconut and 1/2 cup of thawed frozen blueberries comes to a total of about 15g sugar - none of which were added sugars. That's an extra three teaspoons of sugar in a regular tub you really didn't need.
3. Swap: Apple and custard scroll.
For: Two slices of raisin toast.
Saved 30g sugar.
Kids and adults alike love bakery treats, but most pack a huge sugar punch - even if they don't have sultanas in them. Instead of going for an apple and custard scroll (or an iced finger bun or a hedgehog slice) buy a loaf of raisin bread. Not only will you save money, you'll also save your family from a sugar hit. Two regular slices (65g) contained about 11g of sugar, with or without butter or margarine. A huge saving against an average 100g coffee scroll, which has about 41g of sugar packed into it. Seriously.
4. Swap: Tropical juice.
For: Water and an orange.
Saved 24g sugar.
Juice looks like the healthy option for children, over say, a can of soft drink, but either way they're still drinking a surprisingly similar amount of sugar. Juice also has all of the sweetness, but none of the fibre or other benefits that come with eating whole fruit. A 250ml serve of tropical juice (even the no-added sugar kind) has around 24g of sugar in it. To put that in context, the same size glass of lemonade has 23g of sugar.
Meanwhile, an orange has about half the sugar, but also packs about 3g of fibre. If your kids are used to drinking juice and find the swap abrupt, you could do what I did for myself - water down the juice. Start with half and half and go from there until the orange juice is more for colour and a slight taste of tang than anything else. Water is always the best option to go for if you can.
5. Swap: Milk chocolate bar.
For: Sugar-free drinking chocolate and milk.
Saved 20g sugar.
Everyone knows chocolate isn't exactly a health food, but it can be OK if it's only an occasional treat. The key with this is the portion size. A 35g chocolate bar or animal shaped chocolate treat could have 20g of sugar, while a smaller 15g treat will have around two teaspoons of sugar. Either way, it's a lot for a tiny tummy.
If you want to give your child a sweet, chocolatey treat - a better way to go is a chocolate-flavoured milk. Sugar from milk doesn't count toward our daily recommended limit of "free sugars". Plus chocolate milk contains essential nutrients that occur naturally in milk like calcium and magnesium.
The trick here is to make it yourself at home, so you're not ending up with a straw full of sugar. A standard 200ml glass of chocolate milk prepared to instructions has almost 9g of sugar, which is better considering it's about to be mixed with some milk, but if you can go for the Stevia plant-based sugar-free drinking chocolate powder you'll find in the same aisle at most supermarkets. As the name suggests, it's completely sugar-free.
So how do the swaps compare?
How does a day of jam on toast, juice and a yoghurt tub compare with peanut butter on toast, water, fruit and Greek yogurt with berries? Well, the first can push a child well over the WHO guidelines, totalling 47g of "free" sugar.
And after making the swaps, a child will be eating about 5g of "free" sugar a day. Trust me, no-one in your family - nor their bodies - will missing those extra 10 teaspoons of sugar.
And I certainly don't!
What is your favourite sugar alternative?
This content was created with thanks to our brand partner Make Healthy Normal.
Make Healthy Normal is a NSW government campaign to reduce rates of overweight and obesity by providing small, simple and achievable tips to make healthy a normal part of everyday life; motivating people to improve healthy eating and physical activity behaviors; and directing adults and children to effective support programs to help them make the changes.