SUGAR- just how much sugar should children be having?
Sugar gets a pretty bad beating in the press but it can be so confusing for parents as sugar comes in many different forms. At the end of the day, most parents just want to feed their children a healthy diet! Similarly, most parents know that if they feed their children a diet full of sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks then their children’s diet is going to be full of sugar. That said, it may shock parents to know that many unassuming foods such as savoury products like cereals, pizzas and ready made pasta sauces have a significant amount of sugar in them too.
Why is too much sugar a problem in children?
Public health statistics state that over a quarter of children in the UK are clinically obese or overweight and this figure is on the increase. Experts believe that children’s food and drink intake is a major contributor to these rates. Of course being over weight can cause long term health problems such as diabetes and heart disease as well as certain cancers. Eating too much sugar also contributes to dental caries. It must also be considered that if a child is consuming too much sugar, which are classed as empty calories, then he or she are missing out on more nutritious foods that contain vitamins and minerals.
What exactly do we mean by sugar?
There are different kinds of sugars; Sugars are basically simple carbohydrates that taste sweet. Some sugars are naturally occurring such as in fruit and other sugar is added to food and drink to improve their taste, for example, sugar is often added to pasta sauce to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes. These sugars are known as free sugars and these are the types of sugars we need to reduce in our diet.
The current recommended amount of ‘free sugars’ in our diet were reviewed in 2015 by the Governments Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) and they recommended that ‘free sugars’ make up no more than 5% of a child’s daily energy intake.
In real terms this means:
ï‚· Children aged 4-6 years = 19g or 5 sugar cubes a day
ï‚· Children aged 7-10years = 24g or 6 sugar cubes a day
ï‚· Children aged 11 or above =30g or 7 sugar cubes a day
So which foods and drinks are high in sugar?
We are all pretty much aware that foods such as biscuits, cakes and fizzy drinks are all loaded with sugar but as I mentioned before about the pasta sauce, there are many food and drink items that you may not think have a huge amount of sugar. For example, sugar is added to bread as this helps with the yeast fermentation and it is also added to some, ‘so called’ healthy probiotic drinks to add sweetness to the drink but also to add an energy source for the live bacteria it contains.
Also, it’s not just fizzy drinks that contain a lot of sugar. Pure fruit juice contains a lot of sugar and although it is natural sugar, it is of a very high quantity and therefore it is recommended that children only have a small serving of 150mls a day.
Smoothies are another drink loaded with sugar. If you eat some fruit whole, it is good for you because it contains the vitamins and minerals but also the dietary fibre from the skin and the pulp and because of this, it slows the amount of sugar absorbed into the blood stream and aids digestion. In fact, some shop bought smoothies contain more sugar than a can of fizzy drink!!
Cereal bars are another culprit. Many of us will pop a cereal bar into our children’s pack lunch thinking we are giving them a fairly nutritious snack however Which? analysed 30 of the best selling cereal bars and found that all but one of them was classed as high in sugar and over half of them contained more that 30% sugar.
How to cut down on sugar?
Being totally sugar free is completely unrealistic when you have children and the occasional chocolate bar or biscuit is not going to do them harm. If these items are seen as occasional items rather than the norm, this is going to significantly reduce their sugar intake.
Having items such as popcorn, unsalted nuts ( not for the young children who may choke) and rice crackers are all healthy alternatives as well as whole fruit.
Cooking from scratch is more ideal that buying ready made sauces as you will have much more control over the amount of sugar and other ingredients that go into your recipe .