LIFE

When Should You Give Your Child Sugar?

Unfortunately 'never' isn't a realistic option.

19/09/2017 6:20 AM AEST | Updated 19/09/2017 6:30 AM AEST
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Sugar. At the moment, it's a complex subject, particularly when you add children to the mix.

There's no denying Australia has an issue with obesity that needs to be addressed (two thirds of Australian adults and a quarter of Aussie children are classified as overweight or obese), and there's no point in trying to pretend sugar isn't a contributing factor.

Should we try to reduce our sugar intake to meet the WHO recommendations? Absolutely. Should parents try to provide their child with healthy options as often as possible? Of course.

But when does 'sugar patrolling' go too far? Even if you managed to keep sugary foods out of your house during your child's earlier years, there's going to come a time when they're invited to a birthday party and the cake isn't made from dates and raw cacao.

So how do you strike the perfect balance when it comes to kids and sugar?

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"When it comes to kids and sugar, as a parent, I think you need to have a realistic approach to it," psychologist, nutritional health coach and founder of Fermentanicals, Jayta Szpitalak, told HuffPost Australia.

"I recommend going with the WHO recommendations which is six teaspoons per person [per day]. If you can keep it under that amount, you're in the safe zone.

"In my opinion, if you take a hardline stance about it, it's just going to cause anxiety in the child and in the parent. It's setting yourself an unachievable standard, and in some cases can also cause your child to miss out and feel left out."

Szpitalak is of course referring to situations like birthday parties or other events in which some form of sugar will typically be on the menu. Because even those who have been successful at keeping sugar out of their house in a child's early years will know it's simply not possible to keep it going forever.

"If you have a very young child and you can abstain as long as possible and get away with it, keep going, by all means," Szpitalak said.

"The longer you can refrain from having sugar added into their foods, the better it is, because they won't develop a taste for it. And we know what it does [to you] -- it mimics the behaviour of a drug.

"But those birthday parties will start coming up. And if your baby is only one, they might not notice that they didn't get any chocolate cake, but from about two onwards, they will start noticing."

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Those birthday parties will come around, sooner or later.

Szpitalak also stressed that it's important for children to know the difference between 'treat' and 'everyday' foods, though she does point out the food industry makes it difficult, with many foods marketed as 'healthy options' actually being full of sugar.

"Talking about what's a treat and what isn't is really important, but the food industry does make it hard to have that separation," she observed. "Sometimes you think you're picking up a really healthy bag of muesli, but it's actually full of added sugar.

"To assist with that, I'd recommend going that extra mile to read the labels. Understand what you are putting in your child's food."

There are also ways to be smart about sugar without having to eliminate sweetness from your house altogether.

"You can be smart about your sugar options," Szpitalak said. "There are alternatives like honey or maple syrup which are far better than highly processed sugar.

"So for instance, we give our kids Weet-Bix, and with that we give a little small dollop of honey. So while, yes, they are getting that little bit of sugar, they are also getting prebiotics.

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You can be smart about your sugar options, such as using honey on plain cereal instead of processed sugar.

"Something else I do is make green smoothies with kale, and spinach and chia seeds -- which when you think about it are really quite adult foods, and hard for child to choke down -- but I add a sprinkle of chocolate drinking powder sweetened with stevia.

"So they think they're having a chocolate milkshake where it's actually a veggie shake with a bit of chocolate powder in it.

"I'm also not ashamed to say when I run out of the stevia powder I will happily use Nestle in its place. It's a bit of a trade off -- I'm going to give them that spoonful of sugar but it is also making them have all this kale and spinach."

While working out the balance may initially be tricky, Szpitalak said it's easy to tell if your child has had too much sugar, in which case you may want to dial it down.
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"In kids you can ​​​see the sugar spike immediately," she said. "If they have had nothing to eat all day and then have a cupcake, all of a sudden they are bouncing off the walls. My six-year-old isn't like that but my three-year-old -- I can notice it in 10 seconds if he's had too much.

"Another sign is if they are saying they are hungry often and want the treat over an actual meal."

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Too much sugar? Who, me?

At the end of the day, as with most dietary considerations, Szpitalak says balance is key.

"I think following the 90/10 or 80/20 discipline is pretty reasonable," she said. "In my opinion, the hard stance of not eating sugar full stop just causes too much anxiety in children and adults alike.

"Of course there is definitely a need for the discussion [about sugar] but then to take such a staunch response to it... it doesn't allow for indulgences and makes it really hard to enjoy.

"I think people should be informed, know the debate and know your facts. By making as honest and informed choices as you possibly can, the higher the likelihood of having a healthier diet for your child."

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