Most of us are aware that too many sweets, cakes, chocolates and sugary drinks are bad for our kids. Many of us do our best to limit the intake of sugar in our children’s diets, and a lot of us believe we are doing a reasonable job.
However, how many of us are aware of the sugar content in some of the foods we see as ‘safe’ and ‘nutritious’? Would you be surprised, for example, to learn that just 1 can of standard baked beans contains approximately 3 teaspoons of added sugar? And that 1 medium tin of sweetcorn contains approximately 3 teaspoons of sugar also.
Maybe we are not as aware as we thought we were about how much sugar our little ones really eat.
It’s no surprise that kids prefer sweet tasting foods. According to research, scientists now think that it is our children’s growing bodies that cause them to crave more sugar, and your child’s sweet tooth may be at its worst during growth spurts.
Food manufacturers have long since caught on to this. So, in order to increase sales of their products, sugar is added to ensure it’s sweet taste. This is the reason that when we look closely, we will often be surprised at exactly how much sugar some of our everyday foods contain. These same food and drink companies spend millions of pounds marketing unhealthy foods everywhere kids go.
It is well known that excess sugar consumption can lead to tooth decay; obesity, hyperactivity, depressed immunity, and it can be a contributing factor in diabetes. It can also prevent children’s taste buds from maturing. Not to mention the fact that if kids are filling up on sugary foods, at the same time they are missing out on eating something more nutritious.
It is maybe not so well known just how addictive sugar is for a lot of children. Sugar causes a release of a chemical called Dopamine from the brain. Dopamine is known as the ‘reward chemical’ because it makes us feel good. However, sugar can cause a massive release of this ‘feel good’ chemical, much more than we are exposed to when we eat natural foods. It is for this reason that some children (and adults) can become addicted to sugary foods.
Of course, not all sugar is bad. The complex carbohydrates found in fruit, vegetables and grains are ‘good sugars’. It is the simple sugars found in sweets, fizzy drinks, and many processed foods that are the harmful ones.
However, the unfortunate truth is that by allowing our children (often unknowingly) to consume so much sweet sugary processed food, we may be hindering their ability to appreciate the sweetness of naturally occurring sugar. Many fruits such as watermelon, for example, are very sweet tasting, but to a child who is used to consuming high quantities of processed sugary sweet foods, the taste of watermelon would not be quite so appealing.
Maybe this is the reason some kids will shy away from eating fruit. It’s just not sweet enough for the tastes they have developed.
Of course, it’s not realistic to try to cut out all processed sugar. Instead, we should aim to be more ‘sugar aware’. Knowing what is in the food we give our children gives us the power to control their sugar intake, develop their tastes in a healthier way, and improve their outcomes for a lifetime.