Should my child be sugar-free?

Are the little people in your life eating too much sugar? I Quit Sugar's Sarah Wilson thinks so.

Should my kids be sugar-free?

Yeah, we reckon so. Let’s start here. Kids aged four to eight should be consuming no more than three teaspoons of sugar a day. These are the recommendations from the World Health Organisation. That sounds reasonable, and manageable, right?

Well, here’s the scary truth:

• A large glass of apple juice contains eight to 10 teaspoons of sugar – the same as a can of Coke.

• The average bowl of cereal has three teaspoons of sugar.

• A slice of white toast with jam has four teaspoons of sugar.

Our kids are eating three to four times the recommended daily intake, and that’s before they leave the breakfast table!

Why should we be concerned?

Well, here’s what sugar does to kids:

• Sugar alters the palate. Studies have shown that sugar strips the body of vital nutrients, and in particular zinc – essential in the development of taste and palate in young children.

• Sugar causes mood disorders. Kids who eat diets high in refined sugar are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and mood disorders.

• Sugar makes kids fat.

• Sugar causes behavioural problems. High-sugar diets inhibit the body’s ability to absorb vital nutrients, resulting in the body being deficient in micronutrients.

• Sugar inhibits the immune system. Sugar destroys the functions of bacteria-fighting white blood cells, and interferes with the absorption of vitamin C – an essential nutrient for immune function.

• Sugar makes kids aggressive.

• Sugar affects memory. Studies show that kids who consume sugary drinks could suffer from poor memory function throughout adulthood.

Did you know?

Sugar has more than 20 different names! These days sugar is masked by an extensive list of tricky words including barley malt extract, sucrose, fruit concentrate, fruit puree, fruit pulp, glucose, lactose, fructose, sorbitol, mannitol, corn syrup, honey, malt, maltose, rice extract, molasses, golden syrup, invert sugar and fruit extract.

If you see any of these names on a packet leave it on the shelf!

Soft drinks: the sticky truth

Research has found the more sugary drinks a child consumes, the worse their behaviour is likely to be.

A two-month study by Columbia University on five-year-olds monitored how many sugary drinks they had a day, as well as their behaviour over the same period:

• Almost half of the 3000 children involved drank one can of soft drink a day.

• More than 120 had four – or more – glasses of the toxic stuff each day.

• The link between soft drinks and aggression was cited as “strong and consistent”.

I Quit Sugar: Kids’ Cookbook by Sarah Wilson, $30, Macmillan.

But what about fruit?

We’re glad you asked. We’re not suggesting you strip fruit from your child’s diet. Kids are growing little humans who need a wide variety of whole foods. However, some fruit is very high in natural sugar and low in fibre, and for that reason we prefer fruits at the other end of the scale.

One or two serves of low-fructose fruit daily is perfect, eaten with some protein and fat to slow the absorption of the sugar, such as cheese or nuts.

Eat more: Kiwifruit, raspberries, blueberries, grapefruit, peaches.

Eat fewer: Bananas, apples, pears, mangoes, grapes.

For more on this, and Sarah Wilson, see the January issue of Good Health Choices

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