It is hard to find a child who doesn’t love sugary foods. Although many parents know that too much sugar is bad for kids, they have no idea how much sugar their kids eat. Of course, not all sugar is evil; sugar can be naturally occurring in some healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, milk, and grains. What’s dangerous to your child’s health is the added sugar which is put in foods during preparation or processing. The major sources of added sugars are regular soft drinks, table sugar, candy, cakes, cookies, pies, ice-cream & desserts in general. White bread, white pasta and even condiments such as ketchup and barbecue sauce also contain added sugar. Pediatricians and nutritionists agree that in modest amounts, sugar can have a healthful place in a child’s diet (or an adult’s). But many kids get too much, too often. Worse, sugar-rich foods tend to be full of empty calories i.e. they eat too many calories but not enough nutrients. If you think of the daily calorie needs as a budget, you’d want to “spend” most of the calories on “essentials” to meet the body needs and use only left over calories for “extras” that provide little or no nutritional benefit, such as sugar.
Eating high-sugar foods early on makes kids crave them more later on but fortunately, parents can do a lot to train their young children taste buds so they don’t end up wanting sweetness so much.
How much is not too much?
Just as children differ in body type, activity level, and temper, there’s no set measuring spoon for the right amount of sugar in their diet. However, dietary guidelines recommend that sugar intake constitutes from 5 to 15% of total calories.
Pre-schoolers with a daily caloric intake of 1,200 to 1,400 calories shouldn’t consume any more than 170 calories, or about 4 teaspoons, of added sugar a day. Children ages 4-8 with a daily caloric intake of 1,600 calories should consume no more than 130 calories, or about 3 teaspoons a day. (In order to accommodate all the nutritional requirements for this age group, there are fewer calories available for discretionary allowances like sugar.)
As your child grows into his pre-teen and teen years, and his caloric range increases to 1,800 to 2,000 a day, the maximum amount of added sugar included in his daily diet should be 5 to 8 teaspoons.
At the same time, how sugar plays into various health considerations can help guide you toward the right balance for your child. So, what are the sugar harms?
Sugar fuel the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay. So while, regular tooth brushing help prevent cavities, a steady stream of sugar in the mouth increases their likelihood. That’s why dentists advise against putting babies to sleep with a bottle of milk (it contains milk sugar) or fruit juice, or letting them sip the stuff throughout the day.
Children gain weight when they take in more calories than they burn. Unfortunately, sugary drinks and sweets typically supply calories beyond what kids need to satisfy their hunger. Sugar calories also tend to go down too fast and easy. Do you know that regularly drinking even one sugary drink a day increases the risk of obesity!
The American Academy of Pediatrics AAP advises age-by-age limits:
- No fruit juice for babies under 6 months.
- No more than 6 ounces (˜ 175 ml) a day for babies 6 months to 6 years.
- No more than 12 ounces (˜350 ml) a day for kids over 6.
According to endocrinologists, a high-sugar diet may raise the risk of diabetes and insulin resistance syndrome indirectly, by contributing to obesity (a strong risk factor) and directly, by overworking the pancreas, the organ that produces insulin.
So what can parents and caregivers do to take the sugar out of their kitchens?
- Desserts and sweets.Limit portions of cookies, candies and other baked goods. Instead try fruit-based desserts.
- Cereals. Limit sugary cereals. Look for whole-grain cereals, such as oatmeal, that don’t have added sugar — or salt. Add nuts, fruit or cinnamon if you want to jazz it up.
- Yoghurts. Many flavoured yogurts also have a significant amount of added sugar. Avoid those and instead opt for plain yogurt and add your own sweetness by blending in fresh fruits.
- Beverages. Limit juices, sports drinks and other flavoured beverages.
Finally, it is important for both children and adults to be sensible and enjoy all foods and beverages, but not to overdo it!