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Facts and advice about giving sugar to your children. This blog post is written by pediatricians for parents. Certainly, every parent wants their children to eat healthy. And we all know that the biggest health culprit of our time, is sugar. In Sweden, preschools are sugar-free and ice cream is banned. But really, how dangerous is sugar for children?
What do children need to eat?
We have written several posts about what children need to eat and how best to serve healthy foods. In summary, children need to eat breakfast, snacks, lunch, snacks, dinner and possibly a snack, everyday. Children need about a third portion of fruits / vegetables, a third of carbohydrates and a third of protein as well as a small amount of healthy fats.
Sugar is the body’s fuel
All cells in the body need sugar as fuel. Some cells even use fats, or ketone bodies, or make sugar from protein as fuel. Carbohydrates consist of sugar molecules in long chains. The shorter the chain, the less the body has to work to use the sugar as fuel. And the faster the fuel runs out.
It is not necessary for a healthy, normal-weight child to eat sugar. It is generally better to choose longer types of carbohydrates, such as in flour, vegetables, rice, cereals and bread. Choose complex carbohydrates (long chains of sugar) that are carefully wrapped in grains, such as whole grain bread, wheat, edible grains, oats, whole grain rice. This way, the body has to work hard to break down the chains into sugars and thus giving you longer lasting fuel. In addition to this, the grains’ membranes contains plenty of minerals and vitamins.
Sugar tastes good
There are probably some of you who have stopped eating sugar and don’t think it tastes good. In that case, congratulations! But most of us, and definitely most of our children, still believe that sugar tastes delicious.
Sugar causes holes in the teeth
It is well established that the more sugar a person eats, and above all, the more often they eat it, the more holes or cavities they will have in their teeth. The origin of that knowledge was one of the shameful parts in research history, the Vipeholm study. In the Vipeholm study, Swedish researchers gave people with developmental disabilities living in a home (Vipeholm), different amounts of sticky caramel. Some had to brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste, and some did not. This was gravely unethical because the people whom the research was conducted on, and their families, were not given the opportunity to refuse. After these studies, it was clear that sugar causes holes or cavities in teeth.
Where does sugar exist?
Sugar is not only available in packets labeled as powdered sugar and sugar (as easy as it would have been then). Sugar is found in fruit and also, a lot of it, found in dried fruit such as raisins. A lot of sugar is also found in flavored syrup, soft drinks, juices, cakes, buns, sweets, ice cream. There are breakfast cereals that are as sugary as sweets, and chocolate spreads, jams and marmalade which also contain a lot of sugar.
According to the American Heart Association, children between 2-18 years old should not eat more than 25 grams of added sugar. In the Nordics, the easiest way to identify healthier foods, is to look for the green keyhole. The symbol on food products identify the foods with less sugar and salt, and more fiber and more healthier or less fats. A product with the green keyhole means that there won’t be too much sugar.
Sugar from fruit
Fruit contains a lot of sugar, but also many other vitamins and minerals that are very good for the body. Fruit is a good snack or dessert for normal-weight children. A normal-weight child who eats just enough fruit, can continue with the same amount no matter how much it may be.
Some overweight children eat a lot of fruit. If your child is overweight, it may be a good idea to limit fruit intake to one fruit a day.
Drinks with a lot of sugar
Juices, syrups, cordials and soft drinks contain a lot of sugar. Syrups and soft drinks contain nothing good for the body. If your child likes it, I suggest that the child (and yourself) drink one glass of cordial or soft drink on the weekend. Juice also contains vitamins that are good for the body (just like fruit), but are really bad for the teeth.
Obese children should only drink one glass of juice once on the weekend. Normal-weight children can drink more. I suggest that they only drink it at meal times and no more than one glass a day, to spare their teeth. Underweight children may like to drink juice to increase their energy intake.
Sugar from cakes and sweets
Cakes and sweets provide a lot of energy, but very few of the ingredients are good for the body. Sugar in cakes and sweets increases the risk of cavities or tooth decay. Therefore, both children and adults should eat these in limited quantities. Saturday candy is OK!
Some parents eat sweets or cakes themselves, but deny the children. As long as the babies are so young that they do not want to taste their parents’ food, I think that is perfectly OK. But when children want to taste, I do not think it is nice to refuse. Limit your own intake to a level that you think is OK for the kids. And invite the kids to eat when you are eating it yourself. It is what you eat every day that matters, not what you rarely eat.
Sugar for sick children
Sick children usually lose their appetite. They need to drink fluids every day. It is also important that they take in energy to avoid breaking down fat and muscle in their own body. For many children, it is easier to drink sugary drinks. The sugar provides energy to the body, which the body needs. Therefore, I think that kids with the stomach flu (gastroenteritis) or fever and who have completely lost their appetite, should be given a drink with sugar in it or ice cream. If your child prefers to eat fruit or smoothies while they are sick, that’s even better! But if you, as a parent, do not have the strength to cut delicious fruit salads and mix delicious and healthy smoothies for your sick child, you are in good hands. Because, juice and ice cream are good enough!
Sugar and underweight children
If the children’s medical doctor or the school health service has found that your child is underweight, the child needs to gain more energy. Sugar contains a lot of energy and most people think it is good. Many underweight children are picky about food. If your underweight child likes sugary products, let the child have it. Understandably, your child needs protein and fat (a lot of fat, because it also provides energy!), long chained carbohydrates as well, and preferably vegetables and fruits. But for an underweight child who pokes at food, sugar can be a great help.
There are lots of products in our stores that are not sweetened with sugar, but with sweeteners. The sweeteners that are approved in Swedish food production are, as far as we know, safe to eat. They do not contain energy the way sugar does, and nothing extra that the body needs.
If you want to reduce the sugar content in your child’s food but the child offers a lot of resistance, products with sweeteners may be a good substitute. Especially if your child is overweight and really needs to reduce their energy intake. If, on the other hand, you can reduce the child’s sugar consumption without major quarrels or conflicts, I think it is better for the family to get used to unsweetened products.
Booktips about sugar
Booktips about obese children