Sugar In A Child’s Diet

Katie MIlls ,  the editor of Daily Health Click shared that if you’ve opened a newspaper (on or offline) at any point over the last few years, the chances are you’ll have seen at least one article expressing concern about high levels of sugar consumption, particularly by children. You’ll probably also have heard about the sugar tax on sweetened fizzy drinks.Depending on your outlook on life, your feelings may range from those of alarm to a general feeling that this is all a storm in a teacup (or a fizzy drinks can). The truth, as is so often the case, is somewhere in between, but it’s probably fair to say that a lot of people would benefit from understanding more about sugar and its role in your child’s diet.

There are different kinds of sugars
Sugar means more than the stuff we pick up in supermarkets in powder or cube form. In principle, it means any form of naturally-occuring sweetening agent. In practice, when we talk about sugar and health, we mean refined sugars, also known as free sugars, which are basically highly concentrated sugars, which are easily processed by the body and can give that infamous “sugar rush”, hence the title of the documentary by Jamie Oliver.

Basically this is all the usual suspects in term of natural sweeteners, from cane sugar to the likes of maple syrup and honey plus the juices and purées of fruit and vegetables. Whole fruits and vegetables and dairy products also contain naturally-occuring sugars, but these are nowhere near as concentrated and come along with lots of goodness (like fibre for fruit and vegetables and protein for dairy) so they’re essentially classed as “good” sugars.

Children can easily consume too much sugar
In the UK, NHS guidelines for consumption of refined sugars are as follows:

  • Adults should have a maximum of 30g of refined sugars per day.
  • Children aged 7 to 10 should have a maximum of 24g of refined sugars per day
  • Children aged 4-6 should have a maximum of 19g of refined sugars per day
  • Children under 4 should not be given any sweetened drinks or food with added sugar.

You’ll note that there is no minimum recommended amount for refined sugar consumption. This is because refined sugar, quite bluntly, is purely a sweet, treat food. Frankly it has zero nutritional value.

These figures may look like a lot and it could be argued that they are, but there are two key points to remember.

Firstly, these guidelines refer to maximum limits rather than targets.

Secondly, it is actually quite easy for adults to blast through their limits with just one serving of certain types of foods and since the limits for children are lower, the impact on them can be even greater.

Sweetened drinks, for example, often contain (far) more than the maximum recommended limits for adults, which is probably the single, biggest reason why they were singled out for taxation. They are also very easy to consume without thinking about it, particularly when the weather is hot and they are sitting in the chill cabinet of a shop or a home fridge.

Balance and proportion are the keys to managing diet in general and sugar in particular

Once you start paying close attention to food labeling and think about it in terms of the NHS guidelines, you may find that the level of sugar in common products is actually frightening. It is hard to argue that it is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic in the UK and this in turn leads to major health issues such as diabetes. It also, of course, leads to tooth decay, which brings further problems.

If, however, you’re tempted to start rushing out and buying the low-sugar and low-fat versions of everything, then we’d urge you to stop and think a little before you do. The fact is that products which are marketed as low-sugar and/or low-fat are probably exactly that, but they may actually have other ingredients which are far from good for you.

The solution, therefore, is to eat a healthy, balanced diet and when you allow yourself occasional treats, you keep your overall health in mind and choose the healthiest options you can.

What this means in practice is that your daily food intake should consist of roughly one third complex carbohydrates (potatoes, wholegrain cereals and products made from them and rice), one third fruit and vegetables and one third protein. If you eat meat then ideally you want to divide your protein between meat, poultry, fish and dairy. If you don’t then you need to ensure you still eat enough plant-based proteins of which there are plenty.

If you do this then your body’s genuine need for a certain level of fat and sugar will be completely and healthily satisfied.

In principle, both adults and children could live entirely on such a diet, but in practice it’s good to have a little fun in our lives and the occasional sweet treat is not immediately going to trigger type 2 diabetes, just aim to be sensible about it. For example, have ice cream with fruit rather than a syrup topping.


Exercise matters too
In spite of what it might be tempting to think, we couldn’t live off refined sugar all day as long as we took enough exercise. We wouldn’t get enough nutrients. It is, however, fair to say that if you’re eating a healthy diet, you can work off the occasional sweet treat through exercise. It’s also fair to say that exercise has a whole range of benefits for our physical and mental health.

That being so, in addition to managing your child’s sugar consumption, it’s a good idea to see what you can do to interest them in getting active. Even if they don’t like traditional sports or the gym, anything that gets them moving will do them good, so see if you can try out different activities with them to find something they do like, whether that’s going to a dancing class or working out on a spin bike in the privacy of their own home.


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