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10 ways to cut your little one's sugar intake

We all know that too much sugar is bad for our children, and us, and yet cutting it out isn't an easy task, partly because sugary foods are everywhere. 
Ideally, your baby shouldn't have any added sugar in his diet at all before his first birthday and, when he hits the toddler years, he should still have very moderate amounts. 
Why is too much sugar no good for your child?
  • It takes the place of nutritious food. Foods high in added sugar usually displace nutrient-dense foods in your child’s diet. If your child eats a chocolate muffin at 4pm, he’s going to be far less interested in his dinner at 6pm. 
  • It can give your child a greater preference for sweet tastes. Although children are born with an innate preference for sweet tastes, they learn to like savoury and bitter tastes through repeated exposure to them. Too much sugar may set them up to make unhealthy choices in later life.
  • It contributes to weight problems. Sugar and other energy-dense foods are major contributors to the obesity epidemic. 
  • Sugar causes tooth decay. The amount of dental damage depends on the form the sugar takes. Sticky foods, like toffee, stay on the teeth for longer, producing more enamel-eroding acid. Frequency of exposure is also a factor – that’s why it’s a bad idea to let your child sip on a bottle of juice all day.
  • It can affect behaviour. Eating sugary foods with a high-glycaemic index (GI) will cause your child to experience a blood glucose spike followed by a rapid drop in blood sugar levels, which may cause him to be irritable and lethargic.
  • It can affect bone health. There is evidence of a link between sugary soft drinks and reduced bone strength, possibly because soft drinks often replace milk in the diets of children and adolescents.
So with this in mind, here are my top 10 tips to help you keep sugar levels down in your family:
  1. Be mindful of fruit. Fruit is a wonderfully nutritious food and you should feel relaxed about your child eating one or two serves a day, (see the Australian Dietary Guidelines for serving sizes). However, some fruit, particularly dried fruit, tends to be high in sugar. Although higher-sugar fruits such as dates, sultanas and apricots are nutritious, make sure you also offer plenty of lower-sugar choices including fresh strawberries, raspberries and figs. Also watch out for packaged fruit in syrup, which is often loaded with added sugar. 
  2. Dilute fruit juice and cordials. Fresh fruit is always a better option than juice, however, if you do want to give your child some juice, try diluting it three parts water to one part juice. This dramatically cuts the sugar content. Cordials contain even more sugar and you should use no more than a dash – this also includes sugar-free juices, which can be packed with chemical nasties. 
  3. Avoid soft drinks altogether. Fizzy drinks are a major contributor to the obesity epidemic and they are disastrous for dental health. A typical 375ml can of soft drink contains up to 10-11 teaspoons of sugar! Try to keep them out of your child’s life for as long as possible so that they don’t become a habit.
  4. Choose snacks carefully. Snack time is often when parents are the least organised, opting for sugary, convenient snacks on the run. Even those that are promoted as healthy, such as muesli bars and muffins, are often loaded with sugar. Plan ahead and have some healthier snack options on hand. Try raw carrot and celery sticks, avocado on seeded bread, or cheese sticks. 
  5. Serve eggs for breakfast. Plenty of commercial breakfast cereals are packed with added sugar. Eggs are a fantastic, nutrient-rich food and an excellent source of protein. So, a few times a week, opt foreggs on toast instead of cereal (they’re great with tomatoes and avocado on the side for a Vitamin C boost). When you do serve cereals, go for homemade options like oat porridge – even with a little dash of maple syrup they won’t have nearly as much sugar as processed cereals.
  6. Serve a variety of toast toppings and sandwich fillings. I’m sure most children would happily live on jam or honey sandwiches, but having some other spreads handy in your fridge will mean you don’t have to keep relying on these high-sugar options. My favourites are hommus, peanut butter, mixed nut butter (such as a blend of almonds and cashews), pesto, cream cheese, tahini and baba ghanouj (eggplant dip). 
  7. Choose unflavoured yoghurt and milk. It’s critical that your child gets plenty of dairy foods so that he’s getting enough calcium to support his growing bones. However, flavoured yoghurts and milks are often packed with sugar – a typical carton of chocolate milk contains about seven teaspoons of sugar. Even though you might not be a fan of natural yoghurt and plain milk, give your baby a chance to form a liking for them – most children will happily eat them if they don’t realise a sweeter option exists. 
  8. Cook meals from scratch. Lots of processed foods have a high sugar content, even foods you might not expect, like pasta sauces, mayonnaise and bread. To avoid this ‘hidden’ sugar, you’re definitely best to make your own meals from fresh, raw ingredients and keep processed foods to a minimum. 
  9. Experiment with your favourite recipes. When cooking, be mindful of the sugar you add. Experiment with your favourite recipes to see if you can reduce the sugar or remove it altogether. Most recipes can be tweaked and still be delicious. Try using apple purée in baking recipes, banana tosweeten pancake mix and lightly browned onions as a natural sweetener in pasta sauces and frittatas.
  10. Don’t cut out treats altogether. If you do have sweet treats in the house, don’t go overboard by restricting your child’s access to them, or he may end up seeking out sweetness at every opportunity when you’re not around. Research suggests that the more restrictions you put on a particular food, the more likely your child is to want it. The better approach is simply don’t have unhealthy foods in the house – but when they are around, don’t unduly restrict your child’s access to them. See it as an opportunity to clean up your own bad eating habits.


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