Breast milk, the first food that a baby tastes, is naturally sweet. Even when you start introducing complementary foods after 6 months, your little one gets to enjoy the natural sugars in mashed or pureed fruits. So, with time, if you find your toddler yearning for chocolates, cookies and pastries, it is not really surprising. While consuming these sweet treats in moderation will not harm his health, you need to be careful.

These days, the easy availability of sweetened beverages and processed sugary foods has increased the sugar intake in kids. As a result, they often end up losing appetite for nutritious and natural foods. However, sugars mainly offer empty calories, apart from a short burst of energy. Hence, excess consumption can lead to obesity and diabetes in future years. So, read on to understand what sugar in your child’s diet can do and how you can regulate its consumption.

Types of sugars

Sugars can be of two kinds - natural and added.

  1. Natural sugars are the ones present in fruits (fructose), vegetables, and dairy products (lactose).
  2. Added sugars are the sugars and syrups added to processed foods like desserts, sodas etc. Added sugars may also include natural sugars like white sugar, brown sugar, honey, and high fructose corn syrup.

If you compare natural sugar vs. added sugar, natural sugar will always be a better choice.

Recommendation of sugar for children

According to the ICMR guidelines, here is the recommendation of sugar for children according to the number of portions.

  Infant (6 - 12 months) 1 - 3 years 4 - 6 years 7 - 9 years 10 - 12 years 13 - 15 years 16 - 18 years
Portion size (5 gm sugar per portion) 2 3 4 4 6 5 for girls and 4 for boys 5 for girls and 6 for boys

Hidden sugar vs. table sugar

Table sugar refers to the white or brown sugar that is visible to the naked eye. Hidden sugars are the various forms of sugar that are added to foods while processing them. As it is difficult to detect hidden sugars, your child might be consuming more sugar than you think.

Identifying hidden sugars

Identifying the sources of hidden sugars can be tricky. So, always check out the nutrition label. It provides you with information about the total natural and added sugars present (as grams) in one serving. Nutrition labels always list ingredients in a descending manner. So, if sugar is listed among the first few ingredients, the food can be considered as highly sugary. It is also confusing to identify sugars because of its many names. Usually, the names ending with ‘-ose’ indicate added sugars, like fructose, glucose, maltose and dextrose. Some other added sugars are, cane sugar and syrup, corn sweetener, high fructose corn syrup, honey, malt, molasses, etc.

Harmful effects of sugars on toddlers

Eating too many sugary foods can put your child at risk of various health problems. This way, he will also miss out on natural, healthy foods that contain protein, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals. Some of the harmful effects of sugar in toddlers are:

  1. Empty calories provided by sugary foods can lead to obesity.
  2. Sugary foods can increase triglyceride (a type of fat in blood) levels, paving the way for heart diseases.
  3. Sugar acts as food for bacteria and chewing on such foods regularly can cause tooth decay.
  4. Consumption of sugary and caffeinated drinks can also cause sleeplessness in kids.

Expert recommendations to reduce intake of sugar in kids

You can reduce sugar in your kid’s diet using some simple but effective ways.

  1. Give your child water, milk, fresh fruit juice or lassi, instead of carbonated drinks.
  2. A whole fruit is always better than fruit juice as the former has more fibre. Moreover, store-bought fruit juice might have added sugars.
  3. Instead of sugary cereals, give low-sugar or zero-sugar cereals. Add fresh fruits or dry fruits for taste instead. Syrups, jams, jellies and preserves also come in low-sugar varieties.
  4. Ditch desserts like cakes, pies, ice cream, etc. and encourage your child to have fresh fruits.
  5. If you do buy canned fruits, see to it that they are preserved in water or juice, and not syrup.
  6. Encourage your child to snack on vegetables, fruits, low-fat cheese, whole-grain crackers and plain yoghurt instead of candies, pastries and cookies.
  7. If your kid craves sugar, give him foods with natural sugar in them, like raisins or fruits.
  8. Make sure your child eats more homemade foods, like homemade fruit smoothies, apple slices with peanut butter, homemade granola, kheer or payasam made with little sugar etc.
  9. Another important tip is to adopt a healthy lifestyle yourself, so that your kids look up to you.

While enjoying sugary treats once in a while is alright, make sure it doesn’t become a habit with your child. Make him understand the ill-effects of excess sugar intake and make sure you stock up on healthy foods at home.

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