5 easy ways to reduce your child's sugar intake
Experts suggest cutting our added sugar intake to 25g a day, but how much should your child really consume? Helen Foster investigates how much is too much and how to cut down your child’s sugar intake in their diet.
Kids and sugar
Chances are you’re already well aware that children and sugar don’t mix that well – it’s bad for their teeth, increases risk of weight gain and impacts on energy and mood – so limiting intake is always a good idea. While there are no recommended guidelines for babies, Katharine Jenner, campaign director at Action on Sugar, says it’s recommended that tots aged two to three have less than 13g (three teaspoons) a day, while those aged four to six should have no more than 19g (five teaspoons). Here’s how to reduce their sugar consumption.
Some baby foods – even the savoury ones – contain a high proportion of sugar from fruit purées, fruit juices or fruit concentrates that are added to sweeten the taste. Fortified milks can also contain added sugars. ‘Also watch out for dried fruit – some are soaked in fruit juice to soften them – and fruits wrapped in yogurt or chocolate are no better than sweets,’ says Katharine. Companies are trying to tackle this – recently one university advertised for a scientist to work on how to reduce sugar in baby foods but keep the taste and textures babies like – but until the industry starts making wholescale changes we must continue to read labels, compare sugar content and pick brands that have the lowest levels.
Think vegetables first
When you start weaning, offer your baby vegetable purées rather than fruit-filled ones. ‘Don’t worry about the funny faces they pull – it doesn’t mean they don’t like it, it’s just that it’s a new flavour and texture,’ says Paula Hallam, paediatric dietician and expert child nutritionist for Babease baby food.
Beware of fruit juices
We used to think they were a healthy option, but we now know otherwise. A recent study in the British Medicial Journal analysed sugar in juices, smoothies and juice drinks aimed at children, and found half of them contained at least 19g – the maximum tots should have each day. ‘Children should drink milk or water,’ says Katharine. If they do have juice now and then, it’s recommended that the serving is not more than 150ml.
Kids already have a sweet tooth?It's not too late
But, says Laura, when you start to change things, ‘Don’t try to make them go cold turkey; instead, you can dilute the taste by mixing sugary foods with a lower-sugar alternative so their taste buds adapt. If they’ve got used to Coco Pops for their breakfast, for example, start mixing this with a sugar-free puffed cereal, gradually changing the ratio to a greater amount of the sugar-free brand.’ You can try this tactic with other sweet foods and drinks as well.
Don't ban birthday cake
‘Let kids see sugar as a normal part of events such as parties, rather than making a big deal about it,’ Katharine says. ‘Once you start banning particular foods or linking them with treats or rewards, you develop associations that make those foods more tempting.’
Words by Helen Foster