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Where is sugar hiding in your child's staple foods?

Where is sugar hiding in your child's staple foods?
PHOTO: Pexels

As parents, we often find it frustrating to deal with the never-ending battle at mealtime. We wish our kids would eat more, but their food preferences don't align with our recommendations. They don't seem hungry and interested at all about what's for lunch or dinner, but their tummies are like bottomless pits when it comes to snacks, and sugary ones at that. What is up with that?

How much sugar should your child eat?

Kids always have a soft spot for sugary delights made with sucrose, aka good ol' table sugar. It's a kind of carbohydrate formed from two simple sugars, glucose and fructose, and you can find it sweetening up everything from candies and soda to yummy baked goods and breakfast cereals.

But while a sweet treat now and then may seem harmless, the bittersweet truth about sucrose is that it can have detrimental effects on your child's health.

Negative effects of sucrose in toddlers

As earlier mentioned, it is recommended that parents should reduce their child's consumption of sucrose because of its negative effects, which include:

  • Tooth decay: Turns out having a sweet tooth isn't as satisfying as it sounds. Perhaps one of the most well-known effects of sucrose is its contribution to tooth decay. When sugar comes into contact with the bacteria in your child's mouth, it forms acid that erodes tooth enamel, leading to cavities. Toddlers, with their developing teeth, are particularly vulnerable to this.
  • Weight gain: Excessive consumption of sugary foods and drinks can lead to weight gain in children. They're gaining in the wrong direction, not the kind that we want our toddler to have. These high-calorie, low-nutrient foods can contribute to an unhealthy increase in body fat, which can have long-term consequences for your child's health.
  • Unstable energy levels: Sucrose causes rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, leading to a quick burst of energy followed by a crash. This can leave your toddler feeling irritable (no one wants a cranky toddler), fatigued, and craving more sugar to maintain their energy levels, creating a cycle of overconsumption.
  • Type 2 diabetes risk: Studies have shown that high sugar intake in childhood may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. It can lead to insulin resistance, a condition where the body's cells don't respond effectively to insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar.
  • Poor dietary habits: Wondering why your child keeps craving for sweets and dislikes veggies? Introducing too much sucrose into your child's diet can shape their taste preferences, making them more inclined to prefer sweet foods and less likely to enjoy healthier options like fruits and vegetables.

As per the guidelines set forth by the World Health Organisation (WHO), sucrose should constitute no more than 10 per cent of a person's total calorie intake.

Moreover, cutting down on those sneaky added sugars to less than five per cent of your daily energy intake can be a real win for the kiddos. Plus, it's a great way to keep those pesky cavities at bay!

"We have solid evidence that keeping intake of free sugars to less than 10 per cent of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay," said Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO's Department of Nutrition for Health and Development in 2015.

Sneaky sucrose: Hidden sources in your child's everyday foods

So we're aware that too much sugar is not recommended for children. But do you know where sucrose is hiding in your child's staple foods?

While candies or chocolates are the common culprits, sucrose can also be found in unexpected places within your child's every day foods, such as:

  • Breakfast cereals: Many cereals marketed to children are loaded with added sugars, including sucrose.
  • Yoghurt: Flavoured yoghurts can contain substantial amounts of added sugars, making them a sugary choice for breakfast or snacks.
  • Bread: Are you thinking kaya toast? Some types of bread, especially those labelled as "white" or "honey wheat," may contain added sugars, including sucrose.
  • Condiments: Ketchup, barbecue sauce, and salad dressings often contain added sugars, contributing to their sweet taste.
  • Fruit snacks: While they may seem healthy, fruit snacks often contain concentrated fruit juices and added sugars like sucrose.
  • Instant oatmeal: Some flavored instant oatmeal packets can have added sugars, including sucrose.
  • Canned fruits: If you like to use canned peaches or blueberries in your child's crepes or waffles, you should know that canned fruits in syrup contain added sugars to enhance their taste and preserve shelf life.
  • Sauces and gravies: Think your child's favourite satay or barbecued ribs are off the hook? No! Certain sauces and gravies used in everyday meals may contain added sugars.
  • Fruit juice: Even 100 per cent fruit juice can be high in natural sugars, so it's important to limit its consumption.
  • Flavoured milk: Chocolate and flavoured milks can contain significant amounts of added sugars, adding extra sweetness to your child's diet.

Being aware of these hidden sources of sucrose can help you make healthier choices for your child's diet and reduce their overall sugar intake.

Tips on how to reduce sucrose in your child's diet

Completely banning those occasional sweet treats? Sounds like a tough sell (and probably more mealtime drama). But don't worry, there are some practical tricks to dial down the sucrose in your child's diet without feeling like the snack police. Here are some things you can try:

  • Read food labels: Start by checking the ingredient lists on packaged foods. Look out for words like "sucrose," "high fructose corn syrup," "cane sugar," and "glucose-fructose syrup," as these are all forms of added sugars.
  • Choose whole fruits: Instead of giving your child fruit-flavoured snacks or desserts, offer them whole fruits like apples, bananas, or berries. Whole fruits provide essential nutrients and fibre along with natural sugars.
  • Give homemade treats: When you want to indulge your child's sweet tooth, consider making homemade treats using less sugar. You can often reduce the amount of sugar in recipes without sacrificing flavour.
  • Set a good example: Children are more likely to make healthy food choices if they see their parents doing the same. Be a role model by choosing nutritious snacks and meals for yourself.
  • Encourage balanced meals: Make sure your child's meals include a variety of food groups, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Balanced meals can help stabilise blood sugar levels.
  • Limit dessert frequency: Reserve sweets and desserts for special occasions or occasional treats rather than making them a daily part of your child's diet.
  • Educate your child: As your child grows, explain the importance of balanced nutrition and the potential consequences of excessive sugar consumption. Teach them to make mindful choices.
  • Offer healthy snack alternatives: Instead of reaching for sugary snacks, provide healthier alternatives like yoghurt, nuts, or cheese. These options can be just as satisfying without the sugar rush.
  • Limit sugary beverages: Sugary drinks like soda, fruit juices, and flavoured milk can be a major source of sucrose. Opt for water or milk as the primary beverages for your child and reserve sugary drinks for special occasions. There's even sucrose-free formula milk for toddlers.
  • Consult a pediatrician: If you're concerned about your child's sugar intake or have specific dietary questions, don't hesitate to consult with a pediatrician or a registered dietitian. They can provide personalised guidance based on your child's needs.

By following the tips mentioned above, you can help your child develop healthy eating habits that will serve them well throughout their lives. Remember, a little sweetness is okay, but moderation is key to ensuring your child's long-term health and happiness.

ALSO READ: 7 common mistakes millennial parents make when feeding their baby

This article was first published in theAsianparent.

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