A child without a sweet tooth? Impossible. And even as we believe that this is the standard, we also have to come to terms with the fact that children are eating much more of sugar than a healthy body of a child’s age and constitution should be eating. Is there anything we can do about it? Sure. Let’s find out.
How Much Sugar is Good for Your Children?
According to the American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines, pre-schoolers whose daily caloric intake is 1200-1400 calories should ideally consume a maximum of 170 calories (4 teaspoons) per day. Children aged 4-8 years whose daily caloric intake is 1,600 calories shouldn’t consume more than 130 calories (3 teaspoons)per day. When a child reaches his teens, his caloric intake is about 2,000 a day (5 to 8 teaspoons).
If those are the guidelines, here are the facts as they exist: Children in the age group one year to three years typically have an intake of 12 teaspoons of sugar per day. Between the ages of four to eight years, his sugar intake soars to 21 teaspoons a day. Teens up to 18 years of age have a daily sugar intake of 34.3 teaspoons. In fact, an average American consumes 22.2 teaspoons of sugar a day.
The science behind eating too much sugar
By eating too much sugar, children put on a lot of calories, which if unused, the body stores them as fat. This causes weight gain among children or obesity that they will take to their teen and adult years too. So, how much sugar should kids really eat?
Sugar should be part of children’s diet to some extent, but should be given occasionally as treats. High sugar foods have a smaller quotient of minerals and vitamins, which take the place of nutritious foods that kids should eat for growth and mental and physical development.
Can I give my Baby Sugar?
It’s best to avoid giving your baby sweets or chocolates as it produces acid that attacks the baby’s enamel. So, it’s better to restrict sweets to something eaten after dinner. To counter the ill-effects of sugar on your baby’s health, you could try giving him a small piece of cheese after he eats sweets.
Nutritional Value of Sugar
|Maximum recommended sugar intake per day||Teaspoons
|11 yrs onwards
Foods children should be aware of: Parents should be careful of giving their children these foods: cakes, chocolates, biscuits, sweets, fruit juice, breakfast cereals, fizzy drinks and pasta sauces which are high-sugar foods.
Health Effects of Sugar on Children
There are alarming ill-effects of children consuming high quantities of sugar, prominent among them being:
Cavities: An excess intake of sugar causes tooth decay among kids, the most chronic of all kids’ diseases in the United States, says the American Dental Association. When sugar comes in contact with bacteria in a child’s mouth, it produces acid which attacks the teeth for at least 20 minutes. Over time, this leads to a cavity. So, children shouldn’t be given lollipops to suck for hours as this can expose their teeth to sugar for indefinite periods. Drinking soft sweet drinks also ruins their teeth as they contain about 11 teaspoons of sugar.
Obesity: Overeating sugar and sugar-based foods can make kids as fat as their parents. Confectionery items and sweet drinks are filled with calories and eating and drinking them regularly and/or in large quantities packs on the kilos. By eating foods like cakes and cookies, kids do not eat healthy food that their bodies need for their physical and mental growth. Sugar itself may not cause diabetes, but being on a high-sugar diet for a prolonged period can raise the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes or even insulin resistance.
Lowered immunity: When children overeat sugary foods, their body’s microbiome changes the balance of good and bad bacteria and so lowers children’s immune systems. If a child seems to be having a cold often, this can be remedied by reducing his intake of sugary foods.
Poor nutrition: Children need to eat nutritious food that will aid their growth, but sugar contains only calories, no essential nutrients. By giving them such foods often, children miss out on foods that will help them grow well. Loading on an excess of empty calories could impact a child to the extent that his immunity could be lowered and he could also suffer nutritional deficiencies. And, a lack of essential nutrients also means making it more difficult for mouth tissues to fend off oral infection. If children refuse to eat vegetables, fruits and healthy food, don’t take them for picky eaters. They prefer to eat sweet foods that could give them a poor appetite and stomach aches.
Allergies, cough and cold: Eating a lot of sugar gives children symptoms similar to a cold. Related symptoms include runny nose, cough, sinus infection and a lot of mucus discharge. Some kids may develop allergies, though they may not go through allergy tests.
Behavioral Issues: Sugar consumption has an adverse effect on children’s behavioural responses and activity levels. Every time a child eats sugary foods, his blood sugar levels escalate dramatically. When these levels fall, the hormone adrenaline that causes hyperactivity among children comes into play to make up for a fall in blood sugar. Since adrenaline is released at high blood sugar levels among kids, when these levels fall below normal, children experience low blood sugar or hypoglycaemia. They experience symptoms such as sweating, trembling and mental confusion besides tooth decay. They also crave for more sweets in this condition.
Croup and acid reflux: When children go to bed feeling and seeming normal, they wake up during the night with difficulty breathing and a terrible cough. Children who are given chocolate milk or a combination of sugar and dairy find digestion longer and the food very acidic. So, this causes them to suffer from acid reflux when the food goes back up via the esophagus, come in contact with the vocal cords and result in a laryngospasm.
In the light of the above, parents should take extreme care not to give their children too many sweets, nor should they sacrifice nutrition for taste.