How often have you heard the following from moms: “They are kids! Kids need sugar for energy! What is childhood without sweets and candies?”. A lot of parents nowadays are convinced that there are no reasons to avoid added sugars in children’s diets.
Is too much sugar good for kids? Or does there exist another source where kids can get the necessary fuel for their growth?
Let’s take a closer look at this question and try to find the right answer to it.
- Why Do Kids Love Sugar?
- Children Need Carbohydrates.
- Types Of Carbohydrates.
- Best Sources Of Complex Carbs And Fiber.
- Does It Really Matter Where Sugar Comes From?
- A Comparison Of The Nutritional Value Of Fruit Vs Sweets.
- How Much Sugar Can Children Safely Eat?
- 14 Negative Effects Of Too Much Sugar On Kids’ Health.
- How To Limit Sugar Intake In Kids.
- 10 Ways To Reduce Added Sugar Intake In Children.
Why Do Kids Love Sugar?
To begin with, let’s think: why do children love sweets so much? The answer “Because it’s delicious” is not accepted! The matter is much more serious.
A person cannot live without water and air, and they also can’t live without glucose, which is contained in carbohydrates. Just like a car cannot drive without gasoline. Glucose is the source of energy for our brain. We can get it from simple and complex carbohydrates.
When glucose enters the bloodstream, our body produces the hormone insulin, which breaks it down. When one consumes refined added sugar, glucose enters the blood in large doses and in a matter of minutes. When one consumes natural sugars containing fiber and starch, it enters the blood gradually and in small doses.
The problem is that when we eat a lot of added sugar, the body does not know how much insulin to produce. This hormone begins to be released into the blood in large quantities, eventually breaking down almost all the glucose. What does the brain do? That’s right: sounds the alarm and demands more sugar. And after a while, it literally settles on simple carbohydrates. This creates a purely physiological dependence, enhancing one’s sweet tooth.
Among other things, sugar has a stimulating effect on children (and adults too). First, when the blood glucose level rises, the child experiences a surge of energy and becomes overly active. But as soon as insulin breaks it down, apathy comes on sharply. The body’s own resources are quickly depleted, so the child wants another serving of sweets to keep himself in good spirits. This creates a vicious cycle.
Children Need Carbohydrates
It is impossible to deny that carbohydrates are vital for children, and carbohydrate deficiency is undoubtedly related to metabolic disorders, which is especially dangerous when stressed or sick with an infectious disease.
It is also known that carbohydrates are a necessary component for the synthesis of enzymes and hormones, are “food” for the brain, and stimulate mental activity.
Carbohydrates, as with proteins and fats, are one of the body’s main sources of energy, and should be part of a child’s healthy diet. Kids need carbohydrates for active growth, development, and knowledge of the world.
Types of Carbohydrates
All carbohydrates contain sugar. However, our body processes them differently according to their simple or complex chemical structures.
Simple carbohydrates are sugars. They are usually highly processed and refined, containing few minerals and vitamins. Because of their simple chemical structure, they are usually easy to digest, causing rapid increases in energy levels followed by sudden crashes. Following the crash, our bodies will usually begin to feel tired and start to crave sugar, with some people even getting headaches and experiencing difficulties concentrating.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, contain longer chains of sugar molecules. The two types of complex carbohydrates are starch and fiber.
Complex carbohydrates are found in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes. As they are unprocessed, they can be beneficial to health by offering a wide range of essential minerals and vitamins. As complex carbohydrates take longer to digest than simple carbohydrates, they offer a more consistent source of energy, leading to fewer sugar crashes.
Simple and complex carbohydrates are both transformed into glucose (the body’s main source of energy, used in the body’s and brain’s cells) in the body.
As complex carbohydrates are healthier and offer a more consistent source of energy, most of children’s sugar should come from complex carbohydrates.
Best Sources of Complex Carbs And Fiber:
- Whole Grains: spelt, bulgar wheat, brown rice, brown pasta, oats, barley, etc.
- Nuts and Seeds: walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, flax seeds, chia seeds, etc.
- Beans and Legumes: kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, soybeans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, etc
- Fiber-Rich Fruits: apples, pears, bananas, oranges, mango, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc.
- Fiber-Rich Vegetables: lettuce, onions, spinach, peppers, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
- Starchy Vegetables: zucchini, sweet potations, pumpkin, corn, russet potatoes, yams, carrots, etc.
In addition to providing a natural source of sugar that is slow to digest, the above whole foods also offer plenty of essential vitamins and minerals, protein, and fiber that the body needs to maintain a good metabolism and keep healthy.
So, if your child eats whole fruits, vegetables, and grains, they already receive these main sources of energy for active and healthy growth.
Children do not need additional sources of refined sugars, but they need the glucose they can get from complex carbs.
Does It Really Matter Where Sugar Comes From?
Yes, it matters. There are big differences between added and natural sugars, meaning that it makes a difference whether your child’s sugars come from fruit or from candies.
Natural sugars from whole foods are rich in vitamins, antioxidants, fiber and starch, meaning that they are healthier. On the other hand, added sugars only provide calories, leading to potential weight gain without giving any health benefits.
Let’s take a look at the comparison table below, where we compare the nutritional values of apples, bananas, Snickers Bars, and M&M’S Chocolate Candies.
A Comparison Of The Nutritional Value Of
Fruits Vs Sweets:
M&M'S Chocolate Candies
|Serving Size:||medium-sized apple (100 grams)||medium-sized banana (100 grams)||1 serving size: 1 oz (28g)||1 serving size: 1 bar (2 oz) (57g)|
|Fat:||0.2 g||0.3 g||5 g||14 g; Trans Fat 0.3 g|
|Protein:||0.3 g||1.1 g||1 g||4.3 g|
|Carbs:||Complex carbohydrates (Fiber + Natural Sugars)|
|Complex carbohydrates (Resistant Starch + Fiber+ Natural Sugars)|
|- Fiber:||2.4 g||2.6 g||<1 g||1.3 g|
|- Sugar:||10.4 g = 2.5 tsp||12.2 g = 2.9 tsp||18 g = 4.3 tsp||29 g = 6.9 tsp|
|Types of sugar:||natural sugar: fructose, sucrose, and glucose||natural sugar: fructose, glucose, sucrose, and maltose||Refined sugar, lactose, corn syrup||Refined sugar, lactose, corn syrup|
|Sugar absorption into the bloodstream||Sugar levels rise slowly, creating a consistent source of energy and leading to no energy crashes.||Sugar levels rise slowly, creating a consistent source of energy and leading to no energy crashes.||Is absorbed by the blood quickly, causing insulin to spike and leading to a sugar crash.||Is absorbed by the blood quickly, causing insulin to spike and leading to a sugar crash|
|Vitamins and minerals:||Vitamin C|
Vitamin B1, B2, and B6.
|Feeling of fullness after consuming:||The high-fiber content of the apple will make your child feel full on just a few calories.||Unripe bananas have lots of resistant fiber and starch in them, helping people feel fuller for longer.||High in sugar, but low in protein, fiber and other nutrients and vitamins, this will not make your child feel full, making them eat more and consume more calories.||Snickers have peanuts and egg whites in them, which are sources of protein, so a Snickers bar will help your child feel more full than M&Ms. However, the excessive amounts of sugar will not keep your child full for long, causing a sugar crash.|
|Conclusion||As they contain plenty of antioxidants, fiber, and minerals, apples take a while to digest, making them a stable source of energy.||As they are a source of fiber and starch, and contain various minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, bananas are good for health and are a good source of stable energy.||As they are high in refined sugars, M&M’s create a spike in blood sugar followed by a crash, meaning that they do not keep you full for long. In addition, they do not have any essential vitamins and minerals and have artificial flavors and colorings that can be bad for kids' health.||Although a Snickers bar has essential vitamins and minerals in them (due to the peanuts and egg whites in it), the refined sugar in it means that you will experience a sugar crash and not stay full for long.|
As you can see from the comparison table, eating fruit has more benefits than eating candies!
When your child eats whole fruit, they will feel full after one serving of fruit thanks to the fiber in it. Therefore, your child will consume less sugar than when eating sweets, because they will not stop after one small serving… and in the end, they will eat too much sugar.
How Much Sugar Can Children Safely Eat?
The majority of American children eat way too much sugar, with each child eating an average of nearly 55 pounds of added sugar per year. Research suggests that this can increase cravings, obesity, and other health issues in children.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), children and teenagers from ages 2-18 years, should consume 6 or fewer teaspoons of sugar a day. In reality, on average, this demographic consumes more than 3 times that amount .
However, you should avoid giving sugar to children under the age of 2, since they need diets that are dense with nutrients, and are developing taste preferences that last until adulthood.
14 Negative Effects of Too Much Sugar on Kids’ Health
The harm or benefit of sugar for the child depends on the quantity and quality of the carbohydrates they consume.
Eating 1 candy per week will not harm the child’s health, but eating 10 candies per day can really make your kid sick.
The science behind why sugar is harmful is not simple, so let us explain how too much sugar can damage the health of your child:
1. Sugar Negatively Impacts The Immune System
Research showing that excess sugar consumption can negatively affect the immune system by 45% for up to five hours .
If your kid is frequently eating too much sugar, a process called phagocytosis – where the immune cells destroy infected cells and viruses– will be inhibited, increasing their chances of becoming sick.
2. Increases The Risk Of Obesity
Consuming excessive amounts of added sugar, especially from sugary drinks such as soda and fruit juices, increases the risk of obesity .
Sweets lead to a catastrophically rapid weight gain in children. This is not only due to the number of calories in sugary foods and drinks, but also because glucose in large quantities disrupts the production of the hormone for hunger.
As a result, it is difficult for a child to know when they are full and regulate their food intake. Additionally, since sugar is addictive, the kid will be more willing to continue eating sweets, which will further aggravate the situation.
3. Sugar Can Lead To Diabetes In Children
In the last decade, researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine, the University of California-Berkeley and the University of California-San Francisco closely studied data exploring the relationship between sugar availability and diabetes in over 175 countries .
After accounting for obesity and a multitude of other variables, the researchers observed that populations that consumed more sugar were more likely than populations that consumed lower amounts of sugar to have high diabetes rates.
Laboratory experiments have shown that the use of sugar-containing products leads to the development of insulin resistance and reduces insulin secretion. Insulin resistance significantly elevates your risk of diabetes as it causes blood sugar levels to increase. Unfortunately, the average age of diabetics is decreasing, and more children are being diagnosed with diabetes every year.
4. Too Much Sugar Increase The Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease
Added sugar can increase your child’s risk of cardiovascular disease .
Research suggests that there is a relationship between added sugars and cardiovascular disease, even for sugar consumption levels that are significantly less than the nation’s current levels.
Overall, the evidence strongly suggests that there is a correlation between high levels of added sugar consumption and increased cardiovascular disease risk in children because of dyslipidemia, increased adiposity, and elevated energy intake.
However, the committee suggested that consuming less than 6 teaspoons (≤25 g) of added sugar per day was reasonable and relatively safe for children, and also recommended not giving added sugar to children less than two years of age.
5. It Affects Your Child’s Brain
Too much sugar can affect your child’s brain and even affect their brain development, causing cognitive function problems.
Some research suggests that consuming too much sugar can cause brain inflammation, resulting in memory difficulties.
In a 2016 study on rats, published in Behavioral Brain Research, researchers found signs of inflammation in the hippocampi of rats fed high-sugar diets, but not in those fed normal diets .
6. Lead To Nutritional Deficiencies
It can cause nutritional deficiencies , affecting the absorption of minerals and vitamins such as vitamin C and D, calcium, magnesium, and chromium.
When nutritional deficiencies are present, the child may crave sugar more, resulting in increased sugar consumption and more health problems.
7. May Cause Dysbiosis
Too much sugar can cause dysbiosis – an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria in the gut – which can cause inflammation.
In a study on the digestive system published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers observed that consuming too much sugar can potentially cause an overgrowth of harmful bacteria inside the colon.
Dietary sugar is generally absorbed in the upper intestinal tract, but their research indicates that, when sugar is consumed excessively, some of the sugar will not be absorbed by the intestines and thus reach the colon, which can promote the development of harmful bacteria .
8. Sugar Can Trigger Asthma
Research has suggested that sugar can trigger asthma, which may inflame the airways.
According to Berentzen et al.’s (2015) research on 11-year-old children, there is a relationship between the consumption of sugary drinks and the onset of asthma, suggesting that sugar can increase the risk of childhood asthma .
9. Sugar Has A Negative Impact On The Skin
Sugar can be a cause of eczema in children, as sugar can cause inflammation.
When the body cannot metabolize glucose correctly, glycation happens, which causes the skin to crack and take longer to heal and, eventually, can result in eczema. This risk increases the more sugar your child eats, so make sure to limit your child’s sugar intake.
10. Can Lead To Negative Effects On Oral Health
The overconsumption of sugar can cause poor dental health in children.
Harmful bacteria in mouths can turn the sugar into acid that damages enamel, causing the growth of harmful bacteria and leading to gum disease and cavities.
11. Sugar Impacts Your Children’s Levels of Energy
Foods high in sugar, especially those that do not have a lot of protein, fiber or fat, can impact your children’s levels of energy by causing a blood sugar spike followed by a crash .
To avoid this, make sure you give your kids foods that are low in sugar and high in fiber and/or protein.
12. Depression, Cognitive Delay And Sleep Problems
Diets high in sugary foods have been linked to depression , cognitive delay, and sleep problems.
It is not recommended to give your child sweets before bedtime, as it will be very difficult for them to fall asleep. Mood changes, fatigue, impaired concentration, headaches – such are the effects of sugar on a small child.
13. Sugar Causing Aggressive Behaviors
Sugar can make children more violent, causing aggressive behaviors.
A study  on 137,000 European children between the ages of 11 and 15 found that children who consume a lot of sugar are more likely than other children to engage in negative behaviors such as drinking alcohol, smoking, getting into fights, and engaging in risky activities.
14. Sugar Increases a Person’s Chances of Becoming Addicted To Drugs
Eating too many sugary things as a child can increase a person’s chances of becoming addicted to other drugs.
Several studies comparing the neurochemical effects of sugar to those of other addictive substances have shown that sugar can cause addiction.
Research indicates that sugar can be more addictive than cocaine , stimulating the reward centers of our brains by activating opiate receptors, which have been linked to the addictive properties of other drugs. This can lead to compulsive behavior and negative health consequences, with evidence suggesting that eating too much sugar in childhood can lead to addiction and drug dependence as an adult.
Clair Ricciardo observed that people who consume sugar in excessive amounts as a child are more prone to addiction as adults due to the fact that sugar can distort the brain’s circuitry and negatively impact the production of endorphins .
On the other hand, there is also evidence to suggest that alcohol and drug dependence, as well as a family history of addiction, can cause children to seek out sugar, which in turn can increase their chances of becoming addicted . Jeffrey L. Fortuna suggested that sugar addiction may be predicted by several genetic markers, such as the dopamine 2 receptor gene and the A1 allele gene.
Research by Julie A Mennella also corroborated this finding, adding that depressive symptoms sometimes also predict preferences for sweet foods .
Overall, two findings have emerged from the above-discussed research on substance abuse and sugar intake:
a) eating too many sugary things as a child can increase a person’s chances of becoming addicted to other drugs’;
b) being addicted to drugs, or having a family history of drug dependence, can make you addicted to sugary foods.
How To Limit Sugar Intake In Kids
Too much added sugar can be bad for our kids, and is known to contribute to health issues such as asthma, tooth problems, cardiovascular disease, weakened immune systems, diabetes, obesity, etc.
As parents, we need to take the right actions to help our kids cut down their sugar intake, because this unhealthy addiction can play a very sad role in the lives of our children.
10 Ways To Reduce Added Sugar Intake In Children
- Make a long-term plan and follow it. It will take you several weeks to quit sugar, as it is impossible to change long-term habits in a few days. At the same time, it is necessary to reduce the number of sweets consumed daily – and without trying to give up sugar all at once and forever.
- Start with yourself. Children learn about life from their parents and copy everything they do. Therefore, if you want to change your child’s eating habits, you should change yours first. You need to be a model of healthy eating for your child.
- Make your home sugar-free. You can only eat foods high in added sugar if you buy them and physically keep them in your house. To reduce the levels of added sugar your children eat, simply just stop buying food with lots of added sugar! Instead, buy healthy snacks such as fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, healthy cereal bars, etc. Not only are these snacks tasty, but they’re also incredibly rich in essential vitamins and nutrients.
- Explore and change your kid’s menu. No breakfast cereals at all! To get an idea of what to feed your children, use the Harvard Kid’s Healthy Eating Plate, which will help teach your children about healthy eating behaviors.
- Teach your kids to drink simple water. When we crave sugary treats, it is often not because we are hungry, but because we are thirsty! In America, most people are clinically dehydrated. Get your children to drink more water, and make sure to drink plenty yourselves. Occasionally you can make a homemade sugar-free kompot from fruits and berries, which is a healthy alternative to sugary drinks, but make sure you mostly drink water.
- Involve your children in meal preparation. Research has indicated that kids who eat the same things as their parents eat better, and it is well known that children tend to love helping out in the kitchen! Helping to prepare meals gets kids more enthused about the food they’re eating, because they feel like they’ve really accomplished something, and they can now associate eating healthily with spending great time together as a family.
- Give your kids whole foods. Whole foods are not only unprocessed and unrefined, but they do not have any artificial substances or additives. Whole foods include food such as fruits, legumes, meat on the bone, whole grains, and vegetables.
- Give your kids full-fat foods. When trying to cut your child’s sugar intake, it is often better to serve them full-fat foods as the fat can make the food taste better and help sustain your child’s energy levels.
- Give your kids protein. A diet high in added sugar can cause your child to have an increased appetite and gain weight. On the other hand, a diet that is low in sugar but high in protein may help decrease your appetite and help control your child’s weight. Protein reduces cravings, helping you stay fuller for longer. Protein-rich foods include meat, eggs, fish, dairy products, nuts, legumes, and avocados.
- Read labels. Processed foods often contain many more ingredients than you realize – and some of them are quite unhealthy! Added sugar is one of such ingredients, often hidden in processed foods such as baked beans, ketchup, dried fruit and even salad dressings! Therefore, when buying food for yourself and your children, make sure you check the ingredient list for sugar. If sugar is high on the ingredient list, then the food probably contains a lot of sugar. Make sure you also check how much sugar is included in the food by looking at the nutrition chart.
As this article has proved, it is important to make sure our children’s sugar intake is regulated.
Even fruit juices, marketed as healthy alternatives to sodas and sports drinks, can be bad if consumed too regularly. Instead, we should be encouraging our children to eat healthy, natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc. If your child wants a fruit drink, perhaps you could make your own by juicing some apples or oranges.
The takeaway message from this article is that, whilst it’s okay to have a sugary treat now and then, it is not okay for kids to have foods high in artificial sweeteners or sugar too frequently.
We need to encourage our children to eat healthily and teach them the health benefits of eating healthy foods.
Hopefully, this article has given some pointers on how to instill these habits in our children.