Every parent has experienced it: your child goes to a birthday party or another event where sweet treats are available. Next thing you know, they overindulge on sugar, and now you have to deal with the aftermath!
Many experts don’t deny that many kids behave more energetically after a party where they consumed plenty of cake and punch. But this might be due to the excitement of the event rather than because of a chemical reaction to sugar.
But how much sugar is too much, and what are the signs your child is sugar overdosing? Here’s the rundown on sugar intake and what you need to know to keep your child out of a sugar coma.
Negative Effects of Sugar: Points to Consider
When you consider the following, you can see why sugar’s such a difficult addiction to kick:
- Sugar is 8x more addictive than cocaine.
- The average American consumes 50+ pounds of hidden sugar every year.
- Many manufacturers tell us that sugar is made from a “natural” source (sugar cane and sugar beet) so we think it’s okay. But, so is heroin and opium made from “natural” sources. And all of these “natural” things are processed into something dangerous to our health.
We may think we are abstaining from sugar, but the truth is, we have no idea how many things we eat that contain hidden sugars. It becomes more challenging to curb our kids’ sugar intake because just about everything we pick up at the grocery store from spaghetti sauce to plain yogurt – contains a certain amount of refined sugar.
How Bad Is Sugar For a Child?
Sugar may go down oh-so-sweet, but it’s what happens after that’s the problem. The amount of added sugar kids consistently ingest leads to big blood sugar spikes over time. But while sugar spikes are (thankfully) temporary, they can still have lasting effects on your child. The result? A higher risk of insulin resistance, prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes.
Too much sugar can also affect your child’s mood, activity and hyperactivity levels. It affects kids’ behavior because their blood sugar is like a roller coaster; up and down all day long.
But keep in mind that not all sugar is created equal. Don’t be afraid of fruit, whole grains, beans or dairy products even though they have sugar. Those are natural sugars. Natural sugars are necessary for a child’s growth and development. The added sugars are the problem.
7 Ways to Reduce Your Child’s Sugar Intake
Like most double agents, added sugar is usually undercover. That means foods marketed as healthy snacks for kids sometimes aren’t. Know how to spot hidden sugars, especially because sugar comes in various forms. The label could say dextrose, sucrose, honey, agave or molasses. Those are all words for sugar.
So how do you turn the tide on your child’s sweet tooth? Here are some tips.
1. Put sugar-sweetened beverages on your no-no list.
Avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages, including juice, makes a big impact. Even though 100% fruit juice doesn’t always have added sugar, it’s still a lot of sugar concentrated in one place. Also try to avoid lemonade, sodas and sports drinks, and especially as the kids get older, sweet teas and coffee drinks.
2. Get food label literate.
New food labels are currently being rolled out with a line for added sugar amounts. For example, a food label for an apple (which has all-natural sugar) would read:
- Total sugars: 15 grams.
- Includes 0 grams of added sugars.
A jar of applesauce, on the other hand, might say:
- Total sugars: 24 grams.
- Includes 10 grams of added sugars.
The added sugar line can help you make smarter choices. If a food has 10 grams of added sugar, you might want to choose something else – since that’s nearly half the recommended amount for kids.
3. Choose foods with less sugar and more fiber.
Cereals and granola bars can be sugar minefields. But instead of banning them altogether (and possibly causing meltdowns and tears) look for products containing less than 10 grams of sugar, and if possible, more than 5 grams of fiber.
Fiber is beneficial in many ways. It helps with satiety, decreasing cholesterol and lowering the risk for diabetes and prediabetes. A lot of products that have natural sugars, such as fruits and veggies, have a high fiber content.
4. Make your own healthy snacks for kids.
Processed food is often ground zero for added sugar. So the more food that you can prepare at home, the better.
Baking mini-muffins rather than getting them from the store makes a difference. While your version might have sugar in it, you can choose a more natural type of sugar or control the amount.
You can also try making homemade granola bars that are sweetened with dates to avoid adding sugar. But if being Susie Homemaker isn’t your thing, you can go unprocessed without turning on your oven. For example, opt for fresh or dried fruit over fruit snacks.
There is one caveat: While honey and maple syrup are often seen as more natural sweeteners, they still count as added sugar. A benefit is that you typically don’t have to use as much since they’re sweeter than regular sugar, and they also contain some nutrients.
5. Train your child’s taste buds.
When you’re introducing solid foods to your kids, don’t start with the sweet stuff. If we’re not introducing sugar in excess from the start, then their taste buds won’t crave those flavors as much.
Remember, fruit itself is okay! But nothing with sugar added to it.
6. Reverse an already established sugar habit.
But what if your child is already a sugar addict? You can still get them back on the straight and narrow by taking it slow. Don’t go cold turkey. Instead, make little changes.
Instead of …
Sugary kids’ yogurts
Sugary drinks every day
Unsweetened applesauce + cinnamon
Plain or lower-sugar yogurt + berries
Fewer drinks, more water
Fruit in water for sweetness
Naturally flavored sparkling water
7. Try including bitter foods.
This is the trickiest tip – it’s easier to say than to do! But bitter foods and herbs stimulate digestion and detoxification. The liver deals with any kind of overload in the body, so you want to encourage the detoxification process.
Bitter options include:
- Greens such as broccoli and kale
- Lemon and lime juice
Some kids like bitter foods – but most don’t. Nettle comes in tea form, and has a mild grassy taste, so kids might be ok with it. You can also hide the bitters with other flavors – try adding small amounts of greens to a smoothie or make a parsley pesto to put over a main meal.
Another great thing about bitters is that they can reset the palate after too much sugar. Bitter is the opposite taste of sweet, so it’s like rebooting the tastebuds.
8. Focus on hydration.
Sugar can dehydrate the body and make it more acidic. So we want to alkalise the system by rehydrating it after a sugar overload.
Water with a little bit of lemon or lime juice is a great choice if your kids like it. Another great option is coconut water – it has electrolytes to aid with rehydration, and is a little bit sweeter.
Make sure you’re reminding your child to drink regularly. And while you’re at it, grab yourself a glass of water too!