Too Much Sugar: How It Can Affect Health And Behaviour

Sugar in moderation is OK, but how much is too much and what effect does it have on kids?


Sugar is everywhere and almost impossible to escape entirely unless you’re from-scratch cooking and baking everything your family eats. But even then, sugar will find its way into your kids’ hands. So what’s the harm? Well, sugar is definitely not harmless, but it might not be the number one cause of your child’s meltdowns like you may have thought it was. “As far as sugar and kids there is no sound scientific evidence linking sugar intake with behavioral problems,” says Dr. Janet Bond Brill, author of Blood Pressure Down: the 10-step program to lower your blood pressure in 4 weeks--without prescription drugs. In fact, studies have shown that sugar doesn’t affect behaviour – but it can affect health.

Sugar, Empty Calories And Health

According to the Canadian Sugar Institute, it’s estimated that Canadians consume approximately 11 percent of their calories as added sugars, equivalent to about 53 grams of added sugars per person per day. Added sugar, which is in everything from canned soups and bread, to juice, frozen meals and yogurt, means empty calories – calories that offer no nutrients whatsoever. These are the calories that lead to weight gain. “With the childhood obesity epidemic, children are developing risk factors for early heart disease at an alarming rate,” Explains Brill. “Therefore cubing their added sugar intake should be as much a priority as in adults.”

Juice and Soda: Major Sugar Sources

The primary source of added sugars in children are soda and juices, notes Brill and advises the intake of both should be regulated. In terms of juice, make sure the label says “100 percent juice with no added sugar”, that way your kids aren’t drinking more sugar than they need. “When you look for 100 percent juice without added sugar you will know that you are ingesting some of the vitamins that come along naturally in the fruit, such as vitamin C and potassium,” she explains. That said, Brill is not a big fan of juice (even 100 percent juice) because processing fruit to juice removes the fiber, which, in addition to controlling cholesterol levels and aiding digestion, also helps slow down your eating and keeps you feeling fuller, longer (so your kids won’t be tempted to reach for that post-lunch candy bar).

Juice is also a concentrated form of calories, says Brill, which in this day and age isn’t a smart choice for weight control in kids or adults. For example, if you eat an apple, it will take you far longer to bite and chew and swallow the fruit compared to drinking a cup of apple juice, she explains. Not to mention, the apple clocks in at 60 calories, whereas the juice is about 120 calories (and potentially has added sugar).

Controlling Sugar

So what can parents do to get sugar out of their kitchens? There are a few ways to be sugar-savvy and ensure you’re focusing on instilling good eating habits in you kids, while also limiting the sugar they consume.

  • Snack smart: Keep the processed sweets to a minimum or out of the house entirely. Replace sugary treats with whole fruits (frozen grapes make a great healthy sweet snack).
  • Use portion control: Adult-sized pieces of cake are not meant for six-year olds. Teach your kids what a serving size really is and have them stick to it.
  • Look for hidden sugars: When you shop, keep an eye out for how much added sugar is in what you’re buying. Teach your kids to read nutrition labels so they’re aware of how and where to cut back.
  • Cook as much as possible: The best way to control what your kids eat is to cook it yourself. Make cooking a family affair and get them involved in choosing recipes and meal prep, and excited about healthy eating.

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