It is widely acknowledged that we consume too much sugar as a society. Sugar is everywhere, from breakfast cereals to packaged breads. As a parent, it can be overwhelming to think about changing your child’s entire diet, however by making some small changes you can make a big difference. Read on to learn about the effects of sugar on your child’s health, how much sugar your child should be eating, and easy steps you can take to reduce your child’s sugar intake.
What is sugar?
Sugars occur naturally in foods such as fruit and milk, but we don’t need to limit consumption of these types of sugars. Instead, focus on sugar used as an ingredient in processed foods, such as breads, cakes, soft drinks, jams and ice cream, as well as sugar eaten separately or added to foods at the table. Examples include white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, maple syrup, fructose sweetener, liquid fructose, honey, molasses, anhydrous dextrose, crystal dextrose and dextrin.
Sugar’s effect on health
Obesity is becoming a public health epidemic, both regionally and globally. The worldwide obesity rate has nearly doubled since 1980, and in 2010, 5% of children in Qatar were obese. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests limiting sugar intake to counter obesity.
Another reason to watch your child’s sugar intake is to promote optimum oral health; sugar can cause tooth decay and dental cavities. According to the WHO, decreasing sugar intake and maintaining a well-balanced diet can prevent tooth decay and premature tooth loss.
How to reduce sugar intake
New WHO draft guidelines propose that sugars should be less than 10% of total energy intake per day, and that a further reduction to less than 5% would have additional benefits. As a parent, it can sometimes be hard to measure exactly how much sugar your child is eating, however by making a conscious effort to reduce their intake you’ll have a better idea of what’s going into their mouths.
To help make things easier, we’ve put together a list of some easy steps you can take to help decrease the level of sugar in your child’s diet:
• Watch out for ‘hidden’ sugars in processed foods by reading food labels. Many of the sugars consumed today are hidden in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets. As well as ensuring that your child doesn’t eat too many overtly sugary foods, such as cakes and candies, keep an eye on processed foods such as flavored yogurts, granola bars, and canned soups. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (around 1 teaspoon) of sugars.
• Drastically limit your child’s consumption of sugary drinks, including sodas, energy drinks, lemonade, and fruit juice. Surprised to see fruit juice on the list? Fruit juice often has added sugar, and it doesn’t have the fiber of whole fruit, so children won’t feel as full after drinking it as they would feel after eating a fruit. Instead of serving a glass of orange juice at breakfast, serve orange slices.
• Plan healthy snacks in advance. When you’re out with your children, it might be tempting to grab cookies or other processed foods for easy fuel on the go, but with a little forward planning they could be eating fruit and nuts or another filling snack with no added sugar.
• Experiment with sugar alternatives in the kitchen. Home-prepared foods are less likely to include as much sugar as processed or restaurant foods. If your children love sweets, look for low-sugar alternatives to their favorite treats, such as this recipe for banana ice cream.