Sugar and Children

We all know that sugar is not great for us. But what about our kids? How does it affect them? Sugar addiction can start in childhood but how do you manage your child’s sugar intake without being the fun police?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australians consume an average of 14 teaspoons of sugar a day, well beyond the limit recommended by the World Health Organisation which explains adults should consume six teaspoons a day and even less for children. A four year old should have less than three teaspoons of sugar a day, while under the age of two, kids should have no added sugar. Here is a scary example for you:  An average 330ml can of sweet fizzy drink can have between nine and 11 teaspoons of sugar in it! That’s well over the daily quota of sugar for an adult in one drink.

So how do you keep your child away from sugar? Even if you have managed to keep sugary foods out of your house during your child’s earlier years, there’s going to come a time when they’re invited to a birthday party where the sugar fairy is running rampant!

According to the experts, you need to take a realistic approach to it. When at home, try and keep to the WHO recommendations. But there can also be the problem that if you take too hard a stance against it, your child may feel different and left out or they will be the one standing at the lolly table and inhaling all the lollies until they pass out!

Sugar is a like a drug to children. It is addictive. The more they have, the more they want. So if you can keep it away from your children as long as possible when young, then they are less likely to develop a taste for it. It is also important for children to know the difference between a ‘treat’ and ‘everyday’ foods. Be careful in your choices as a lot of foods labelled as ‘healthy’ often have hidden sugars. Checking food labels is the best way to see what is actually in your food and of course eating fresh rather than processed foods is ideal.

How does sugar affects a child’s behaviour? Numerous studies have confirmed that sugar does not cause hyperactivity. That’s not to say you’re just imagining those post-birthday-cake meltdowns. According to the experts, the problem is what happens when blood-sugar levels rise too high. The body responds by producing a large amount of insulin, a hormone that sweeps sugar out of the blood and into body cells. Blood-sugar levels may then drop so quickly, your child may feel shaky or sluggish. Not surprisingly, low blood-sugar levels can trigger a craving for more sweets which creates a vicious cycle of sugar highs and lows.

If your child tends to have post-sugar meltdowns, you can prevent them by tempering the amount they get at any one time. Things like controlling portion size, diluting fruit juices, choosing treats low in sugar and by making sure they eat something heartier along with sweets. Protein (cheese, soy, beans, meat, nuts) and fibre (fruits, veggies, whole grains) help slow the rise and fall of blood-sugar levels.

At the end of the day balance is the key. The 90/10 or 80/20 rule is a good way to keep things balanced rather than removing sugar totally, so everyone can have a little treat here and there.

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan