5 Reasons to Help Your Child Quit Sugar

…..with 5 easy ways to make it happen.

Sugar consumption has increased exponentially over last two centuries.

In 1850 the world production of sugar (from sugar cane and beet) was about 1 million tons.

Now it 100 million tons.

In 1800 Children ate around 2kg of sugar a year (480 teaspoons). These days the average child consumes this amount of sugar in confectionary a MONTH!

A whooping 24kg a year

This equates to an average of 18 teaspoons of sugar a day. Which is 3 x maximum safe guidelines on daily sugar consumption for a child aged 7 -13, and 4 times for a child aged 4-7.
It’s not recommended to give children under 4 any sugar.

Even more crazy… is that this amount is thought to be grossly underestimated, simply because it only counts confectionary and doesn’t take into consideration the vast amounts hidden sugar in many everyday foods.

Foods your child may ALSO eat regularly…

Cereal, bread, juice, ketchup, baked beans, jarred sauces, and other packaged foods.

As a result, our children’s teeth are worse now than they were 300 years ago.

Even with advancing dental care, experts blame the rise in sugar consumption for devastating rates of decay.

In fact, according to Public Health England, a quarter of 5-year-olds have tooth decay, with tooth extraction being the most common reason for hospitalisation of children.

As many as 3 out of 4 adults in Britain have had a tooth removed.

One huge way we can help support public dentistry and healthcare is to help our children quit sugar!

BUT tooth decay is not our only problem.

Here are 4 other even MORE IMPORTANT reasons to help your child quit sugar…

Eating excess sugar actually leads to LOW energy

I took the kids to see Peter Rabbit 2 last week. It was great to be able to get back in the cinema. The children were rolling around in hysterics at Cottontail and her jellybean sugar rush. Which I thought was a particularly good representation of my kids when they’ve been at a birthday party.

As you’ll already know, sugar, directly impacts your blood sugar levels.

When we eat it, we get a quick energy boost.

However, when large amounts of sugar are consumed our body responds by producing insulin which signals to the liver, muscles, and fat cells to quickly remove it from our blood stream.

The results – as Cottontail so beautifully demonstrated, is a dramatic crash and trouble keeping your eyes open.

If your child is eating sugar at various intervals throughout the day, they’ll be on a rollercoaster of energy highs and lows.

This can not only leave them feeling tired but CRAVING more sugar.

When your child eats sugar, they get a rush of dopamine, a feel-good transmitter. In this way, sugar is addictive.  

Over time, this cycle gets worse, and more sugar is required to boost. This is called insulin resistance, which long term ends up as Diabetes Type 2.

Nearly 5 million people in the UK have Diabetes Type 2.

This preventable condition costs the NHS over £1.5m an  HOUR or 10% of the NHS budget for England and Wales, and equates to over £25,000 being spent on diabetes every minute.

One huge way we can support future healthcare is to help our children quit sugar!

Excess sugar negatively impacts your child’s mental health

...and academic performance.

The fluctuations in blood sugar discussed above, not only impact our child’s energy levels, but their ability to concentrate, memorise facts and behave well at school.

Lab rats fed fructose syrup for six weeks forgot their way out of a maze, whilst those fed a nutritious diet high in nutrients and essential fats found their way out fastest.

In the rats fed sugar, the diet caused insulin resistance. Even in this short 6-week time frame, the brains cells that are responsible for memory and learning were damaged.

This roller coaster of highs followed by a crash may also accentuate the symptoms of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Research shows that sugar suppresses the activity of the hormone BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) which is often measured low in individuals with depression, schizophrenia and adults with Alzheimer’s.

One huge way we can support our education system is to help our children quit sugar!!

Excess sugar compromises your child’s immune system

Sugary foods are devoid of any real nutritional benefit.

When a child fills up on sugar there is less room in their diet for healthy wholesome foods full of vitamins and minerals.

In 2018 Health Survey England found that only 18% of children between the age of 5 and 15 managed to eat their recommended 5 a day.

11 Easy Ways to Increase Your Vitamins Without Taking a Supplement – Health in Synergy

This is worrying, because it means that most children will be deficient in immune supporting nutrients such as Vitamin C, Zinc and Selenium.

Around 65% of our immune system is in our gut!

In fact, our gut is our immune system ‘Control Centre’.

Good gut bacteria and immune cells work together, in synergy, to regulate the immune system, and help fight infections such as the Common Cold, Coughs and Flu.

Sugar disturbs the delicate balance of our gut bacteria by encouraging the overgrowth of bad bacteria. Furthermore, processed foods also contain a concoction of ingredients that negatively impact gut health. (more on that here)

One huge way we can support society through the pandemic is to help our children quit sugar!!

Excess sugar leads to serious health conditions

I don’t need to tell you about the link between excess sugar consumption obesity and type 2 diabetes. That’s pretty clear.

(read my struggle with childhood obesity here)

But did you know that too much sugar also causes fatty liver disease and heart disease?

It is now commonly accepted by the medical profession that it is the excess consumption of sugar that is the largest contributor to heart disease, not the previously suspected saturated fats. More on fats here.

How sugar contributes to heart disease is not completely known, but it appears to have several connections. For example, high amounts of sugar overload the liver.

The liver metabolises sugar in the same way as alcohol, converting carbohydrates into fat. Over time this can lead to a greater stores of fat known as Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). This contributes to diabetes and increases your risk of heart disease.

Consuming too much sugar also raises blood pressure and increases inflammation in the arteries, both of which are pathological pathways to heart attack and stroke.

What counts as sugar?

Free sugar is any sugary substance added to food or drink. Sugar found naturally in whole fruit and vegetables (not juice) are not counted.

Free sugar includes natural unrefined sugar substitutes such as honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar and molasses. Although, these at least contain some nutritional value in the form of vitamins and minerals.

Sugar has many disguises.

In fact, there are well over 50 different names sugar hides under.

So, get used to spotting it on food labels. (How to read food labels coming soon)

Here’s a few of the most common to look out for.

Glucose, sucrose, dextrose, fructose, golden syrup, muscovado, beet, agave, cane syrup, caramel, fruit juice concentrate, grape sugar, corn syrup, date syrup, rice syrup, maltose, maltodextrin, treacle, sorghum syrup, starch sweetener, lactose.

NHS Guidelines on MAX ‘free sugar’ consumption
AgeGramsTeaspoons
Adults28g7
Teenager24g6
7–13-year-old24g6
4–6-year-old20g5
Under 4’s0g0

Most parents drastically underestimate how much sugar their child is eating, simply because they’re not aware of the actual quantity of sugar in food.

Let’s look at a typical child’s average diet.

73% of children eat cereal for breakfast.

1 bowl of Cheerio’s, Rice Krispies, Lucky Charms, Branflakes, or Cornflakes – all around 4-6g sugar per bowl (1-2 teaspoons) depending on portion size. These are considered low sugar varieties. Some children sprinkle sugar on top of these cereals, adding an extra 2-3 tsp.

If children are given higher sugar brands e.g. crunchy nut cornflake or cinnamon grahams they could also contain 3 teaspoons.

One piece of toast and jam, or Nutella – 6g sugar = 1 ½ teaspoons

75% of children drink juice at breakfast

Juice from concentrate– 150ml = 2-3 teaspoons

Lunch

There is a great move towards lower sugar lunches at school, though at present, many schools still offer a pudding every day.

Even when portions are tiny, this can equate to 1 or 2 teaspoons of sugar.

After school snacks

2 plain biscuits –  1-2 teaspoons sugar

Small bag salt sweet popcorn – 1 -2 teaspoons

‘Healthy’ Granola bar – 2-3 teaspoons

Fruit yoghurt 120ml small pot – 2-3 teaspoons

All in all, even though some parents are careful, pay attention to portion size and watch the amount of sugar their child eats, it all mounts up.

Cereal or toast, juice, small pudding or biscuit after school, fruit yoghurt

= 10 teaspoons a day

Now think about those days when there’s a birthday  – add cake (3 teaspoons)

Or Mr Whippy van at the park – add ice-cream on cone (4 teaspoons)

A Calippo ice lolly  – 5 teaspoons

A two finger KitKat – 2 ½ teaspoons

School gives them a juice and cake after a sports match – 5 teaspoons

Or simply your child eats 3 biscuits instead of the allowed 1 = 3 teaspoons

…..and suddenly we’re in dangerous territory!!

The good news….

… is that within a relatively short time of quitting sugar, many amazing things happen in the body.

Hunger signals normalise.

You feel full and satisfied more easily.

Hormone’s balance and regulate.

But most importantly, you start to love the taste of real unadulterated food.

Fruit and vegetables taste more flavourful and delicious!

The best part is that without the constant cravings, your child has a better chance of making wiser meal choices, which puts them in a position to have a long happy and healthy life.

Are there alternatives to sugar?

In my opinion, there really are no known safe alternatives.

Of course, using honey, molasses and maple syrup will add certain vitamins and minerals into your child’s diet. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that these natural alternatives still contain glucose and fructose.

Sweeteners have become big business lately. But are they a good option?

I’m not sold.

After all, many sweeteners are chemical substances that we’re adding to our diet without any long-term research on the side effects. Plus, they compound the problem by enhancing, as opposed to reducing a child’s sweet tooth.

I would err on the side of caution.

Consume infrequently and in small quantities.

So how do we begin to live a NO or LOW SUGAR life?

The Solution – take small but significant steps

  • AIM for a ZERO sugar breakfast

Choose breakfast cereals that contain no sugar – porridge, no sugar granola. See our no and low sugar breakfast suggestions here.

If your child likes toast, top it with something savoury. No sugar peanut butter, smashed avocado, scrambled egg for example.

Swap the juice for water and a piece of fruit. Even just a small handful of blueberries or half a banana.

Get in the habit of only buying plain natural live yoghurt. Most sweetened yoghurts contain as much sugar as ice cream, some even more.

Our sweet tooth son loves nothing more than the tartness of natural yoghurt, simply because he’s never had anything else. Children eat what they get used to. Get them into good habits early on!

  • WATER DOWN JUICE

If you must offer juice, only choose freshly squeezed juice (not cordial or from concentrate).

Give a max serving of 150ml a day. Water it down one third juice to two thirds water.

  • Keep the after-school snack SAVOURY

This has been one of most successful changes on our low sugar journey.

Not only have the kids dramatically cut sugar, but overtime, they’ve increased the variety and quantity of fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet. See here for our TOP 5 AFTER SCHOOL SNACKS here.

  • Pay attention to portion size

Portion size makes a massive difference to your child’s sugar intake.

A child does not need a full-size magnum ice cream which contains 6 teaspoons of sugar, a mini will do, and at over 3 teaspoons of sugar per lolly that is still a massive treat which should only really be given on a special occasion. Mini milks are a better choice (1tsp) especially for pre-schoolers.

If your child has ketchup with their sausages, or maple syrup on their pancakes, use a teaspoon to measure out a serving. It’s all too easy to over pour.

  • Keep the sweet stuff for intense exercise.

Keep it real.

We’re not going to be able to stop our children or teenagers from eating sugar all of the time. But we can help them get into good habits and teach them the best /safest time to consume that chocolate bar, or sugary drink.

Sugar eaten after exercise (within 30 minutes) is taken up very quickly by your exercised muscles. Plus, intense physical activity sensitizes your cells to the effects of insulin – the opposite of the desensitizing effect that long term over consumption of sugar has.

In other words, if you want your child to enjoy a little treat, and let’s face it, we all love a bit sugar now and then, teach them when is best.

For example, after their Saturday morning swim or dance class, or long Sunday family bike ride.  

By keeping kids active and encouraging a lifelong love of sports you can remain more relaxed about that occasional ice-cream in the park or piece of cake at a birthday party.

And finally….

Excess sugar’s not just bad for children. We could all become more aware of how much we’re eating and reduce our intake.

Why not join us on our 7 Steps to Better Family Health Programme and learn the secrets of a healthy happy family.

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