You might be surprised to see the amount of sugar that is hidden in kids’ snacks and foods. Excess sugar consumption can have health consequences for little ones, including tooth decay among other health problems. So where exactly is this sugar – and how can you and your family avoid it?
What’s wrong with sugar?
Sugar is high in fructose which can overload your liver leading to fatty liver disease, obesity and diabetes. There have also been studies leading sugar-intake and insulin levels to cancer. (1,2,3)
But one of the biggest threats that sugar is posing – especially to our children – is on their teeth. Sugar provides easily digestible energy for bad bacteria in the mouth, which can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. (4,5,) Sugar likes to react with the bacteria found in plaque, and produces a concoction of harmful acids that, ultimately, rot the teeth.
But why is it that our children’s teeth are so at threat?
The pull of sugar
What – or who – is to blame for this decline in children’s oral health? It’s tough to say. Sugar is certainly one factor, and it’s one that is hard to escape.
Our bodies run on glucose, so we are hard-wired to seek out sources, and although sugar is mostly fructose, our brains recognise it as pure, dense energy and crave more the more that we eat. And kids aren’t immune to the psychological effects of sugar either.
What’s making things worse, is the way that sugary foods and drinks are advertised. Although there has been a lot of improvement in sugary drink marketing aimed at youth, there’s still a lot more room to improve.
Some of the biggest soft drink companies aim most of their adverts at children, or run their adverts during children’s television time (even the advert isn’t aimed directly at them). Children are easily influenced, and advertisers know this. They are also creatures of habit, so once they like something, they’ll keep on asking for it, and parents are possibly too quick to give in to well-behaved kids when it comes to sweet treats.
Hidden sugars in every day foods
Although sugary drinks are named as the number one culprit, there’s reason to worry with other foods as well.
A closer look at bottled ketchup, tinned soups, low-fat yoghurts and chocolate-flavoured milk shows that these products have far more sugar than you might expect, or that would naturally occur, meaning it’s been added to enhance the flavour, and keep you buying it.
The most surprising of all the finds is baby food. Even vegetable-based baby food purees can have added apple juice to sweeten the product, and is aimed at parents looking for convenience. Formula milks also have a staggering amount of sugar, as does cow’s milk, when compared to other plant-based alternative milks.
So it seems as though the problems are starting young. But don’t worry, we’re here to help!
How you can reduce your kids’ sugar intake
- Skip the sugary beverages. Teach your kids to love and hydrate with water. Fizzy drinks and even fruit juices pack a lot of unnecessary sugar that is harmful for their bodies and teeth.
- Set specific dessert time. Maybe you pick a day on which you have dessert together. If your kids get used to dessert after dinner every day, then it’ll quickly become a tough habit to break. Teach moderation by allowing a particular time for dessert.
- Offer fruit first. If your kids are after something sweet, give them a choice of fruits rather than sugary snacks. Don’t even leave the question open; say “Okay, do you want an apple or some berries?” Most of the time having the choice between the fruits will help them feel in control enough to make a decision.
- Lead by example. Kids copy what their parents do. Have you ever been surprised (or shocked) to hear one of your kids spurt out a phrase that you often say? That’s because they learn the bulk of their behaviours through seeing and copying. So if they see you sneaking sweet treats in secret, it’s a habit that they’re likely to pick up. Lead by example and leave the sweet treats behind, choosing a healthier option.
- Find a sweet treat. It’s important to still have things that you can all enjoy together as a treat. Fangks shake powders are great if your kids are partial to flavoured milk, and it can also be used to make a whole number of sugar-free treat recipes.
If you and your family have successfully gone sugar-free, let us know your story in the comments below!