It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that sugar is not good for anyone – adults and children alike – whether it be Diabetes 2, obesity, tooth decay, behaviour or a sugar sensitivity or intolerance. When it comes to children, the shocking facts are:
- Children, on average, are eating three times more sugar than they should.
- One in four children enter primary school obese or overweight. One in three children enter secondary school obese or overweight.
- Tooth decay is now the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children.
- Children today are the first generation predicted to live shorter lives than their parents because of diet and inactivity.
As well as the physical impact, local children’s health and wellbeing charity the Sunflower Trust says too much sugar has a direct impact on a child’s overall health and wellbeing, their ability to concentrate and learn, behaviour, sleeping patterns and emotional stability. The charity delivers a health and wellbeing programme to help children who are struggling in any or all of these areas.
Sunflower practitioner Sheree McGregor says this is a common theme with her patients, adding:
“There is nothing good to say about sugar. However, you cannot say to your child that they can never have sugar as that is impractical, creates tension and encourages them to gorge on sugar when it is available. Parents I see, notice huge changes in behaviour when they address the sugar intake. They report their child is much more engaged and focused, they can concentrate more and feel more satisfaction in themselves with tasks they complete. They engage in a single activity for longer periods of time. They are definitely calmer, they are less erratic and they tend not to have so many meltdowns.
“Foods that increase the blood sugar levels produce the greater addictive drive in the brain. Over time greater amounts of sugar is needed to get the same satisfaction, hence once a child starts to eat sugar they cannot stop. Sugar also impairs the immune system for six hours after ingestion. It literally stops your immune cells from fighting the infection, and also allows opportunity for the bacteria to take a hold.”
So, Sunflower suggests that when it comes to sugar, stop and think. Remember:
Never give sugar on an empty stomach as it will rush through the system and the effects will be greater. Instead, only allow it after food.
It is not just a question of the amount of sugar, it is the frequency of sugary snacks. Entice your child to only eat sugar at mealtimes.
As they are now only eating sugar at mealtimes, ask your child to clean their teeth to help fight tooth decay.
Remember sugar is the principal agent in both obesity and tooth decay so try to reduce it even when your child is allowed it. Sugar in moderation. Government guidelines suggest:
- Four to six years – no more than 4 teaspoons, or 19 grams
- Seven to 10 years – no more than 5 teaspoons, or 24 grams
- 11 plus – no more than 6 teaspoons, or 30 grams
Children are getting a lot of their sugar from fruit juices and fizzy drinks, buns, pastries, cakes, biscuits, cereals, yoghurts, sweets, chocolate and ice cream. Once of the worse culprits is energy drinks – an average 500ml energy drink includes a staggering 12 teaspoons of sugar and two shots of expresso.
Sunflower suggests six smart sugar swaps
Home-made popcorn makes a great alternative to sweets, especially when warm and fresh.
Frozen grapes are another great idea (chop up for small children).
Mashed up frozen banana makes a fantastic alternative to ice cream. Add cocoa powder for a chocolate version.
Try making a healthy chocolate mousse with mashed up avocado and cocoa powder.
Lower the sugar content on home-made cakes or brownies by using sweet potatoes, courgettes, carrots or beetroots. There are plenty of recipes online.
Try rice cakes with natural peanut butter (choose one with no added salt or sugar) and a slice of apple.
Swap for bread sticks and hummus or a home-made avocado dip. Alternatively, choose natural yoghurt with no sugar and sweeten with fruit or a small amount of honey.
Water can be made more exciting with a slice of cucumber, fresh mint, lemon, watermelon, strawberries or any other fruit.
Home-made chocolate porridge (easily done in the microwave). Just mix cocoa powder with the oats before adding your milk.
Toast with mashed banana or scrambled egg is another healthy option.
Make your own raw muesli with oats and the fruit or nuts that your child likes. You can even grate a small amount of dark chocolate in (chocolate with high cocoa content is much lower in sugar).
Sunflower has helped hundreds of children to become the best that they can be – many with diagnosed health, behavioural, emotional or learning difficulties, others who are underachieving at school and some, who for no obvious reason, need a little extra help to achieve their potential.
If your child is struggling to cope, or you feel they need extra support with their any area of their life, the Sunflower Programme can help: 01483 531498.