Children are born with a preference for sweet taste so between a carrot and a candy they will go for the candy as they have been programmed so. Hence, it is important what we offer to children in order to ensure that the essential nutrients are not compromised on. Child nutritionists around the globe are worried about the increased intake of sugar in children. This is because high sugar intake has been linked to not only dental caries in children but also obesity, diabetes and other conditions that were once seen in adults only. Many of these conditions are carried into adulthood. Hence, child nutrition is gaining importance today.

Sugar in general is white in colour, and it is precisely known as sucrose, a compound that is made from hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. There are a number of forms in which sugar is listed on an ingredient label, such as: white sugar, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, and jaggery to name a few. So, sugar is no longer used only as the obvious sugar but is also added to many products under different names where you may not expect to find it. For example, ketchups, sauces, breads, biscuits, etc.

Sugar is hard to let go and kids love to eat sweets. Most of the times it’s tempting for parents to offer sweet treats as a reward for their good behavior and for grandparents to see the face of their little bundles of joy lit up with sweet treats. But, can we count these treats as healthy food for kids?

Why so much noise about sugar?

Eating sugar is not bad, but its excess consumption can have adverse effects on the child’s health. The World Health Organization (WHO) sugar recommendations have dropped from the previous 10% of daily calories from sugar to less than 5% of daily calories from sugar across all age groups. This is because consuming foods and drinks that are high in added sugar is linked to increased chances of development of risk factors for obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and the metabolic syndrome. Obesity in children has become a growing concern which is affecting their physical as well as mental health. Also, sugar may be “good to eat” but is “not good for the teeth”. Sugar is the food for the bacteria that cause tooth decay. These bacteria produce acid that scrapes away the teeth enamel causing tooth decay.

Sugar is definitely not one of the nutritious food for kids. Good nutrition for children includes a balance of cereal grains, lean meat, eggs, fish, dals, beans, nuts, milk and milk products and healthy fats in the diet. Naturally occurring sugar found in fruits, dried fruits and milk should not be avoided. But refined sugar and its other forms should be avoided.

So, if you are concerned about your child’s sugar intake, make a note of the tips we are suggesting to limit their intake of sugar.

1. Do not offer sweets as rewards: When parents offer sweets or food as a reward for good behavior, the child starts to believe or learn that the food given as reward is better than other foods. This lays the foundation for the thought process that sweets are important. Reward kids with appreciating words and comforting hugs, or give them non-food items, like stickers, to make them feel special.

2. Restrict high sugar containing beverages: Packaged fruit juices, sports drinks, energy drinks, flavored milk, carbonated beverages etc. are high in sugar and need to be replaced with whole fruits, fruit milkshakes made at home with minimum sugar, coconut water, buttermilk, etc.

3. Let treats be given as “treats” and not “daily foods”: Sweet treats are good once in a while or on special occasions. They should not be a part of the child’s everyday food habits.

4. Offer homemade sweet treats: Plain yogurt with freshly chopped fruits / dried fruits or sweets made with dried fruits like dates, dried figs, apricots, raisins which are rich in natural sugar can be a good option to the sugar laden sweets and drinks.

5. Limit breakfast cereals: For years breakfast cereals have been marketed as the first healthy food to start the day with. So, this is many times the first choice for busy parents. However, in reality breakfast cereals are high in sugar which makes it tempting for children and there is not much fuss around the breakfast table with food. These cereals give an instant sugar rush and slump which leaves the child craving for the rest of the day. Healthy and nutritious freshly cooked breakfast or oats offers healthy nutrition for children.

6. Maintain regular mealtimes: Eating at regular mealtimes will help kids stay satiated for a long period of time without craving for foods or drinks that are high in sugar. Long meals gaps increase the urge to eat high sugar foods and drinks.

7. Limit Intake of biscuits or cookies: Biscuits and cookies may seem like the perfect snack for hungry children. However, they are filled with sugar and unwanted calories and provide no nutrition at all. Children and parents do not pay attention to the serving size mentioned on the pack and at times an entire packet is consumed. Replace or stock your kitchen with healthy snacks options like makhanas, khakras, homemade roasted chivda, etc.

8. Plan healthy after school or evening snacks: Healthy evening snacks like vegetable cutlets, whole wheat bread vegetable sandwiches, corn bhel, idlis, dosas, etc can be some nutritious and filling snacking options to a muffin, piece of cake, few biscuits, cookies, etc.

9. Make reading nutrition labels a practice: Children need to be taught to read the nutrition label as a habit to be aware of what food is being picked off the shelf. The lesser the sugar in a packaged food, the better it is.

10. Bring in gradual changes: Any kind of forbiddance will create rebellion in children and further craving for the forbidden food. So, forbidding them from any kind of sugar is not advisable. An occasional cookie or a small dessert is never harmful and does not have an impact on their eating habits. It’s the quantity and frequency of these foods that is an issue. Gradually decreasing the sugar intake will prevent the feeling of deprivation and make them more open towards trying the healthy food options given to them.

We know sugar is bad and children need to be told why. Having an open discussion with children is important as they would then be more receptive to the changes made. It is also necessary to keep talking of the positives of the foods that are nutritious and healthy rather than keep mentioning the negatives of the foods that are not good for them. Positive reinforcement brings better results. If you as a parent finds it challenging to incorporate the changes in the child’s diet or needs help planning better meals, a child nutritionist can help plan nutritious food for kids. A nutritionist for kids knows how to prescribe a food plan without compromising the essential nutrients for both, physical and mental growth

Author's Bio: 

Arati Shah is an expert nutritionist and she runs her own weight loss centre in Mumbai, Café Nutrition. Having earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition along with a Post-Graduation in Sports Sciences and Nutrition from S.N.D.T Juhu, she is one of the top child nutritionist in Mumbai who can also guide the concerned parents about the right nutrition for children with same efficacy. She heads the Nutrition team in Mumbai and takes personal interest in each and every client of Café Nutrition. In addition, her sports nutritionist programs are easy to follow as she works on bringing about a change with our regular food habits.