We all know that kids love sugar. They crave it, they beg for it, and they seem to want it all the time. But as parents, we also know that too much sugar can have some pretty negative effects on our little ones.
Did you know that sugar is addictive because of the way it affects the brain’s reward centre? When children (and adults) consume sugar, the brain releases dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that creates a sensation of pleasure and reward. This response reinforces the desire to consume more sugar, leading to cravings and dependence.
In addition, sugar consumption can lead to the development of tolerance, meaning that the brain requires more and more sugar to produce the same level of dopamine release. Over time, this can lead to a cycle of dependence and cravings, making it difficult to reduce sugar consumption.
How much sugar kids should be consuming
First things first, let’s talk about how much sugar kids should be consuming. According to research, children in South Africa consume approximately 40 teaspoons of sugar daily, which is far above the recommended daily limit.
The American Heart Association recommends that children aged two to 18 should have no more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day. This may seem like a large amount, but it’s important to remember that sugar is found in many foods, and it can add up quickly.
Which 10 foods rank high in sugar?
So, what are some foods that have hidden sugars, besides the obvious chocolates and sweets? Some of the most common culprits include:
- Sweetened breakfast cereals: Many breakfast cereals marketed to kids are high in added sugars. Check the labels and choose cereals with no more than 5-6 grams of sugar per serving.
- Soda and sugary drinks: Sodas and other sugary drinks are a major source of added sugar in children’s diets. They can contribute to weight gain, dental decay, and other health problems.
- Candy and sweets: Candy, cookies, and other sweets are obvious sources of added sugar. It’s best to limit their consumption as much as possible.
- Flavoured yoghurt: Many flavoured yoghurts are high in added sugars, even those marketed as “healthy”. Choose plain yoghurt and add fresh fruit for sweetness.
- Granola bars: Some granola bars are marketed as healthy snacks, but they can be high in added sugars. Look for bars with no more than 5-6 grams of sugar per serving.
- Fruit juice: While fruit juice may seem healthy, it’s often high in added sugars and lacking in fibre. It’s best to limit juice intake and choose whole fruits instead.
- Ketchup and other condiments: Ketchup and other condiments can be surprisingly high in added sugars. Check the labels and choose lower-sugar options.
- Energy drinks: Energy drinks are high in caffeine and sugar, and can be especially harmful to children. They should be avoided altogether.
- Processed snacks: Many processed snacks, such as chips and crackers, are high in added sugars. Choose whole foods, such as fruits and veggies, for snacks instead.
- Sweetened milk alternatives: Flavoured milk alternatives, such as chocolate or strawberry milk, can be high in added sugars. Choose plain milk or unsweetened alternatives, such as almond milk.
Side effects of too much sugar
Now that we know which foods to look out for, let’s talk about the side effects of too much sugar. Consuming too much sugar can lead to a variety of health problems, including:
- Increased risk of obesity: Consuming too much sugar can lead to weight gain and an increased risk of obesity, which can cause health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
- Tooth decay: Sugary foods and drinks can contribute to tooth decay and cavities, especially if children don’t practice good oral hygiene.
- Increased risk of type 2 diabetes: Consuming high amounts of sugar can lead to insulin resistance and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, a condition that is becoming more common in children.
- Behavioural issues: Some studies have suggested that consuming too much sugar can lead to behavioural issues such as hyperactivity and difficulty focusing, although more research is needed in this area.
- Increased risk of heart disease: Consuming high amounts of sugar can lead to high blood pressure, elevated triglyceride levels, and other risk factors for heart disease.
- Poor immune function: Consuming too much sugar can weaken the immune system, making it harder for children to fight off infections and illnesses.
- Nutrient deficiencies: Consuming high amounts of sugar can interfere with the absorption of important nutrients such as calcium and magnesium, leading to deficiencies in these and other essential minerals.
- Poor academic performance: Some studies have suggested that consuming too much sugar can lead to poor academic performance, although more research is needed in this area.
Monitor your child’s sugar intake
So, how can you monitor your child’s sugar intake? Here are a few tips:
- Read labels: When shopping for food, be sure to read the labels to check for added sugars.
- Limit sugary treats: While it’s okay to indulge in a sugary treat every now and then, it’s important to limit these foods to prevent overconsumption.
- Offer alternatives: Instead of sugary snacks, offer your child fresh fruit, veggies with hummus, or whole-grain crackers with cheese.
- Model healthy habits: Kids learn from watching their parents, so be sure to model healthy eating habits and limit your own sugar intake.