Are you worried about how much sugar is in your child's diet? Two thirds of parents are concerned about the amount of sugar their child consumes. The Department for Health agrees that children aged between four and 10 are consuming far too much sugar: it ought to be no more than 10 per cent of daily calorie intake.
Professor Kevin Fenton, Director at Public Health England says: "We are all eating too much sugar and the impact this has on our health is evident." Obesity causes heart disease, cancer, diabetes. In 2013 tooth decay was the main reason for hospital admissions for children aged five to nine years of age.
What was once an occasional treat for early man when he stumbled across sugar in the form of honey, berries or fruit, has now infiltrated almost every food we eat. It's impossible to know where sugar is lurking unless you read the labels: considering myself a healthy eater, I was recently shocked to discover that half a pot of my supposedly healthy 'Love Life' carrot soup contained two teaspoons of sugar.
What advice do the experts have? Gaynor Bussell, a nutritionist who sits on DEFRA's Family Food Panel says: "Children need proportionally less sugar than adults but tend to eat proportionally more of the white stuff. The daily limit for most children based on their calorific intake is around 13-14 teaspoons. Children tend to have a sweet tooth, eat too many sweets and biscuits which, along with sugary drinks, can easily take them over the daily limit."
If you want to take steps to reduce your child's sugar intake what should you do?
Nutritionists agree that the first step is to reduce the intake of sugary food then replace them with heathier options.
What to reduce in your child's diet
NHS award-winning dietitian Marianne Williams advises:
• Read the labels. Be aware that sucrose, glucose, corn syrup, honey, hydrolysed starch and invert sugar are added sugars.
• Always look at the nutritional label on the packaging which gives you the amount of sugar per 100 grams. Above 22.5gms is high in sugar, 5-22gms is medium and below 5gms per 100gms is low sugar.
• Avoid adding sugar to your food: sugar in drinks such as tea, sugar on cereals, jams, chocolate spread and syrups on toast. Even honey is a culprit because although it may be 'natural' the effect on the body is the same.
• Do cut down on hidden sugars in manufactured products. These will include breakfast cereals, fizzy drinks, fruit juice, energy drinks, cereal bars, sauces for pasta, ketchup, fruit yoghurts, milkshakes especially from cafes and takeaways.
The trouble with sugar is that it's sneaked into many supposedly healthy foods: most fruit yoghurt can contain four teaspoons of sugar in a small pot. Ketchup contains almost a teaspoonful (5gms) per tablespoonful. So if your child has two yoghurts and some ketchup in one day that amounts to ten teaspoons out of their maximum allowance. Add a Mars bar, which contains 30grams of sugar – a whopping 6 teaspoons and they are already way over the limit. Even a small chocolate Penguin biscuit which you might include in a packed lunch contains around two teaspoons of the white stuff.
Marianne explains: "Even fresh fruit juice will contain significant amounts of fruit sugar and should always be diluted for children. Cereal bars usually have around 30 per cent sugar and a milkshake can contain 15 teaspoons of sugar."
What to include in your child's diet
Your child can still eat well if you make some simple changes. Tracey Williams Strudwick, Director of Plum Nutrition,says:
• Make your own pasta sauces because bought ones are high in sugar.
• Replace cereal bars with mixed unsalted nuts – avoid peanuts- and a very small quantity of dried fruit.
• Replace fruit yoghurt with plain and add fresh fruit.
• Give your child Weetabix or porridge (sweeten with fruit if needed)
• Avoid ready meals except as an occasional treat; they tend to be packed with sugar.
Marianne says: "You can give your child a small amount of dried fruit but avoid any that has been coated with more sugar. Dried fruit can still be very harmful to teeth as it sticks, so ensure your child cleans their teeth straight after eating it."
But how far should you go to avoid sugar? Is anything with added sugar off the menu?
Gaynor Bussell says: "Some sugar in products is natural sugar that is present in fruit or vegetables and the label will say 'sugars' to show there is both natural and added sugar. One way to check is to look at the order of ingredients on the label: the ingredients in the highest quantities are near the top." That explains why sugar was the fifth ingredient in my carrot soup.
According to research carried out jointly by Public Health England and the University of Reading, 50 families who were enrolled in the 'sugar swap' campaign managed to reduce their child's sugar intake by 40 per cent in one month. It's not that hard but, as I discovered, you have to ditch your assumptions of what is healthy and always read the labels!
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