too much sugar
Health and safety

Is your child having too much sugar?

An occasional sweet treat probably won’t do any harm, but many children eat far too much sugar each day, setting them up for health problems now and in the future. Alana Kirk-Gillham investigates how too much sugar could be hurting your kids.

Kids love sugar. But unfortunately so does dental decay, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, ADHD and a host of other debilitating diseases.

From birth, babies naturally develop a preference for sweet things, which is absolutely necessary for early growth. But if that preference turns into an addiction, then excess growth and in some cases obesity, is only one damaging punch from the sugar hit.

The level of added sugar in our children’s diet is becoming a serious problem, leading to long-term health issues. Sugar can have an immediate impact on children in terms of teeth decay and obesity, but also memory under performance. Over consumption of sugar has been linked to poor memory function, learning disorders, and depression. Research has also shown that chronic consumption of added sugar dulls the brain’s mechanism for telling you to stop eating.

But amidst the current buzz around the dangers of sugar, it’s important to remember we all do need it. A healthy diet should contain a significant amount of naturally occurring sugar from fruit and grains. Our brain and body need it to function properly and children especially require it for energy and growth. In fact, our brain cells need twice the energy of all other cells in the body, and derive it from glucose (blood sugars).

Sugar is not the enemy. But added sugar is.

So what is added sugar, and how much is too much?

Added sugar is sugar that is used as an ingredient in any form of processed foods such as bread, cakes, jam, and sauces. It is also the sugar that is added in its own granulated form to food and drinks such as our breakfast cereals or cups of tea and coffee.

Added sugar is so embedded in our everyday diets it can be hard to realise how much our children are consuming.

Alarmingly, sugar is a key ingredient in fruit juice, flavoured milk, energy and fruit drinks, types of yoghurts and most children’s cereals.

too much sugar

Added sugar comes in many forms and can be labelled as glucose, sucrose, maltose, corn syrup, fructose, hydrolyzed starch, lactose, mannitol and honey so be careful when reading labels as it is not always called sugar.

Healthy sugar (such as those found in fruit and vegetables) come with lots of fibre, which can make you feel full and restrict how much you eat. However, added sugars are ’empty calories’ adding no nutritional value, and will rarely leave you feeling satisfied. The sugars in fruit are also broken down and utilised differently to normal table sugar, and won’t be combined with preservatives, artificial colours and flavourings that you find in processed foods. The added benefit of fruit over other sugary foods is that it also contains fibre, vitamins and minerals.

How much is too much?

It is recommended that a child has no more than 12g of added sugar a day. There are current proposals to reduce this to 5g. When you think that one fizzy drink contains four times the current daily recommended amount of added sugar at 40g, you can see how easy it is to over-consume! Even fruit juice has all of the sugar but none of the fibre – one 8oz glass of orange juice contains 21g of sugar.

When checking out labels take note of where sugar is placed. Ingredients are listed in order of weight, and so if sugar, or any form of it, is in the top three ingredients that food has a high added sugar content. As a rule of thumb, a high sugar item has 15g of sugar per 100g or more. Low sugar content is 5g or less per 100g of food. Children develop cravings for sugar at an early age. Early eating options often develop into later eating preferences so the earlier you start your children on a diet with low added sugar, the easier it will be for them to adhere to it as they grow up.

There are three main signs that your child is consuming too much sugar:

  • The first is cavities. No matter how well they clean their teeth, if they eat too much sugar, they will get cavities.
  • The second is when thirsty do they ask for a sugary drink, or water? Sugar is addictive. Children typically not addicted to sugar will ask for water.
  • Finally if you don’t notice a difference in your child’s behaviour when they eat something sugary, they may have developed a high tolerance. If your child can drink a can of soda and show no behavioural change, it could be a sign they consume too much sugar.

To reduce the sugar content in your child’s diet, pull back slowly, reducing bit by bit, and make the replacements as fun as possible. You can still make sugars ‘sometimes’ food given in small amounts on occasion rather than as a staple part of the diet. It’ll make your child sweeter, but not over-sweetened.

How to reduce sugar in your child’s diet

  • Replace all juice and fizzy drinks with water.
  • Read the labels – many children’s foods have added sugar.
  • Buy plain yogurt and add natural sweeteners such as raspberries and other fruit.
  • Do not buy breakfast cereals with high sugar content – most children’s cereals will exceed their daily recommended allocation of sugar in one bowl! Porridge and whole grain cereals are low sugar.
  • Keep a store of healthy snacks – nuts, carrots, crackers and hummus, and even some peanut butter.
  • Eat regular meals. Sugar cravings are caused by low blood sugar levels so eating often and well will reduce the need for a quick fix.
  • Swap sugar for fruit.

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Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….


Why is play important

Playing with your baby can encourage their mental and physical development and you’ll have lots of fun!


Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.