Sugar intake, particularly in children, is a hot topic in the media these days. However government data suggests that children are still far exceeding the maximum recommended sugar consumption every day. Government recommendations are that added sugar should account for no more than 5% of daily calories. When put into more practical terms this means 19g for age 4-6 and 28g for 7-10 (28g is the equivalent of 7.5 teaspoons).
Human beings are programmed to enjoy sugar. However, from an evolutionary perspective we were not often exposed to it. When sugar was available, for example in the late summer/autumn when sweet fruits were ripening or when a bees’ nest full of honey was discovered, we would gorge on it to build up fat to allow us to survive the frugal winter months. We no longer live in a state of feast and famine and sugar is available to us all the time. However, the craving for sugar still exists and the release of feel-good brain chemicals following consumption has got us hooked!
Sources of Sugar
It is all very well being told to reduce sugar intake but there are many sources of sugar that are not obvious and therefore it can be a minefield for parents when considering their weekly shop and meal preparation. Many processed foods, ready meals and ‘free from’ products have added sugar to improve taste and to hide the excess salt as a preservative. So foods do not have to taste sweet in order to contain sugar – most loaves of bread will have sugar added to them!
It is also worth noting that highly refined or processed carbohydrates such as pasta, white bread and white rice are digested and absorbed so quickly by the body that the effect of eating them is very similar to consuming sugar itself.
Common foods in children’s diets that contain high amounts of sugar or refined carbohydrates are
- Breakfast cereals
- Soft drinks (including fruit juice)
- Cereal bars
- Fruit yoghurts
- White bread/pasta/rice
Why Wholefoods Are Essential to Your Child’s Diet
Wholefoods, on the other hand, contain very little refined sugar and carbohydrates, therefore increasing fresh fruit, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fat can automatically help reduce sugar intake as well as stabilising and regulating blood sugar. A wholefoods diet will also increase the ‘nutrient density’ of the diet.
More people than ever, particularly children, may be suffering from ‘Hidden Hunger’. This is when people are eating sufficient calories (often ‘empty calories’) but not getting sufficient micronutrients (such as vitamins, minerals, flavonoids and essential fats) for optimal health leading to a ‘Nutrition Gap’ or ‘Hidden Hunger’. Many people are therefore overfed and under nourished.
Nutrients are essential for all functions of the body and deficiencies or sub-optimal levels of these nutrients can have a detrimental effect on all aspects of health, for example:
- Magnesium, vitamins C, B5 and B6 are all essential for a normal stress response.
- Magnesium, zinc and chromium are involved in insulin signalling and therefore blood sugar regulation.
- Vitamin B6 and magnesium are essential for production of the happy brain chemical (serotonin) and therefore have an effect on mood etc.
Therefore as well as reducing children’s daily sugar intake, it is also important to ensure a nutrient dense, wholefood diet.
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