How to reduce your child’s sugar intake when they have a sweet tooth

Sugar is added to almost everything these days – even to things that we wouldn’t expect, and that don’t actually taste sweet. Things such as bread, cereals, soups, sauces, gravy, processed savoury food and more.  Literally everything that is processed and packaged in a supermarket contains added sugar.  You may not even notice it on the ingredients list as it’s not always listed as ‘sugar’, but has over 60 different names.  It’s insane.

In recent years we’ve all become far more aware of the dangers of sugar and the health risks associated with it, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and even cancer, as well as the damage we already know it does to our dental health.  It’s seriously bad for you, though most people don’t seem to really digest this information and take on board just how dangerous it is.  They carry on eating all these sugary foods and are ignorant to the damage they are doing to their body now and in the future.

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Sugar is a slow poison

The problem with things like sugar and other foods that are bad for you, is that the effects are not instant.  It’s very unlikely you would drop dead instantly from eating a sugary doughnut right now, but over time eating a high sugar diet can cause devastation to your health.  Many diseases linked to food build up over time.  It takes time for these bad foods to wear down your health.  It’s also not guaranteed, so people take the chance, the same as with smoking.  Everyone knows someone who has smoked, drank alcohol and eaten sugary foods their whole life and is almost 100 with no health problems.  Sure, they’re lucky and it might happen to some people, but for the majority of us living like this will result in early death.  Sugar is no exception and it really is a dangerous killer.  It’s a slow poison.

Yes, it’s a poison.  Watch this YouTube video by Doctor Robert Lustig giving a lecture at the University of California, where he proves how sugar is a poison and it’s metabolised in the exact same way as alcohol in our body, playing havoc with our health and poor, poor liver.

Some more reasons sugary food is bad for you

  • It causes weight gain as if you don’t burn it off it is converted to and stored as fat (so don’t be fooled by ‘fat free’ labels as if they contain lots of sugar this is actually way worse than fat).
  • Too much added sugar in the diet puts strain on the liver and can cause insulin resistance eventually leading to type 2 diabetes
  • It’s addictive.  Some sources claim it’s more addictive than cocaine.  I definitely crave chocolate every day if I have some and I can’t leave it in the kitchen cupboard if I know it’s there!  Having not eaten it for so long now, the craving has gone and I don’t want to start it up again!
  • Bad for teeth.  We’re taught this from a very young age and know it causes tooth decay.  It’s the only thing I thought sugary foods did, before I learnt the other dangers.
  • Your body can’t deal with anything else.  When you have a huge sugar influx your body may use all available resources to deal with the sugar, so if any other bad germs enter your system at the same time, they may be ignored as you don’t have the capacity to deal with these too.  This can lead to illness and disease.

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Poisonous sugar is marketed to children 🙁

What’s even worse is that so much of the products containing sugar and excess amounts of added sugar are marketed as health products, and/or marketed to children.  It’s a nightmare.  It really is like selling drugs to kids!  It’s so terrible for our adult bodies, let alone their little bodies.  It really is scary stuff.  I imagine in 100 years or so everyone will think we were crazy for giving our kids so much sugar and even calling it a ‘treat’ as if it were a good thing.

We can’t walk through any town or city or switch on the TV without being bombarded with colourful adverts, packing, and signs trying to lure children into consuming an array of sugar-loaded foods and drinks.

No parent wants their child to be consuming a lot of sugar when they’re aware of the damage it does, but the problem is that sugar is a highly addictive substance, so once children start with it, it can be very difficult to get them away from the sugary sweets all around them.  Of course the food companies don’t care they are addictive.  They don’t care about our children’s health!  If they did then they wouldn’t sell items loaded with sugar.  They just care about making money and making sugary products we want more and more of by becoming addicted to them.

Should I ban my kids from all sugary food immediately?

Whilst many parents adopt the approach of outright banning their children from consuming any junk food or sugary products, anyone who understands human behaviour will know that this approach rarely works, especially if your children are already used to these sorts of foods.  An adult can go cold-turkey, but a child doesn’t understand this concept.

Even if it works when they’re children and living at home, they may rebel later in life once they have the freedom and control over what they eat, and this can actually lead to unhealthy relationships with food, eating disorders and food addictions in addition to the already unhealthy effects that sugar has on the body.

So, how do you ensure that your children are able to stay away from these products – especially if they’re sweet-toothed?

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Educate your children about the dangers of sugar

As with most things, education is the key, and educating your children when they’re young and enabling them to take control of what they eat whilst understanding the effects and importance certain foods have on them is going to get you a lot further than dictating what they’re allowed and not allowed to eat.

Education is not just important for our own children, but for their children and future generations. None of us would send our children to play in bunded oil tanks, ride in a car without a seat belt, or do any of the things that put them in danger, and since good habits need to begin at home, educating them for the future when they’re in charge of their own diet is very important.

Offer an alternative

Personally I never buy anything with sugar in our main shop.  There are plenty of natural alternatives to sugary food that we enjoy instead.  We all enjoy sweet food, especially the children.  Here are some of the sweet snacks the children enjoy:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Almond yoghurts (we’re vegan)
  • Dried fruit such as dates, raisins, apple and mango (be careful as some dried fruits contain added sugar, especially cranberries!)
  • Wholegrain rice crackers with 100% fruit jam (many jams are loaded with sugar, so choose a 100% fruit jam with no added sugar)
  • Make a no-added-sugar chocolate milkshake (see the next point to see how)
  • Choose dairy free chocolate sweetened with xylitol (xylitol is actually good for teeth!)

The trick is to replace the unhealthy added-sugar snacks with healthy alternatives.  It’s not about missing out.  Instead you should embrace all the new delicious snacks you can have and excite your children with all the new options and new tastes.

I have a sweet tooth and I still do, even without sugar.  I’ve just replaced the old sugar laden snacks I used to eat with healthier alternatives.  And you know what?  They are simply delicious!  I snack on toddler crisps with no sugar or nasties, toddler biscuits and cake bars (sweetened with fruit juice instead of sugar) and wholefood snack bars.

I even eat chocolate!  I use raw cacao to make hot chocolate and raw chocolate chewy scrumptious brownies.  Now I crave all these delicious healthy snacks and the thought of a normal sugary chocolate bar makes me feel quite sick.  In fact, I did try a normal sugar chocolate cake (it was vegan) once in the past 1.5 years and it made me feel really sick!  It was SO sweet and SO sickly!  I couldn’t manage the slice and it put me off wanting to eat sugary cake again.  It’s been so long since I started my reduced sugar journey (I went totally sugar free in 2017 for a year and in 2018 I still don’t buy anything sugary at home), that my taste buds have definitely changed.

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Make your own sweet drinks

Drinks are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to sugar, and those marketed to children are the worst of all.  Even squashes that don’t have sugar can contain questionable sweeteners in their place.  So be careful!

I give my kids water mostly and they have water bottles at school and nursery to sip on all day.  They also have a cup of plant based milk each day such as oat milk or almond milk.

I make homemade fruit and vegetable smoothies which Reuben, my youngest, loves.  Surprisingly he even likes the really grassy green smoothies, even though he’d never eat the contents (such as kale and celery) by themselves!  It’s worth a shot with your kids!

It’s also so easy to make a nutritious milkshake with plant milk, fresh bananas and a scoop of cacao powder.  If the bananas are frozen, then even better for a creamy ice shake!  I use a Nutri Ninja to make these in a matter of seconds and the kids love their chocolate milkshakes.  Much better than a pre-packaged sugar filled version from the store.

Get the kids involved in cooking/baking

Whether it’s baking sweet treats or cooking sauces from scratch, there are so many recipes available online, without sugar, that taste amazing. Getting kids involved is fun for them, but also educates them at the same time and will boost their cooking skills and confidence.

There are so many simple three ingredient recipes, such as date balls made with blended dates, cacao powder and nuts.  Or one of my favourites are cookie dough bars which are a blend of coconut flakes, oats and dates – they really do taste like cookie dough, but require no cooking at all.  Search the internet for inspiration on sugar-free sweet treats.

Lead by example

As with everything, we have to lead with the example we want our children to follow. You can’t lecture them on the dangers of sugar whilst stuffing a bar of chocolate in your mouth. Instead, show them the benefits of eating healthy.  If you eat a lot of sugar (and believe me, you might without realising once you start reading the ingredients lists of everything and learning all the names it’s hidden under), cutting it out completely might be a little daunting, so instead start to cut down.

Cutting down on sugar in your children’s diets is one of the best things you can do for their health both now and in the future.  You should also do it for yourself and start researching the names of sugar and seeing which of the products it lurks in within your food cupboards.  Don’t see it as restricting your pleasure, but instead have fun searching for new products, making your own healthier sweet snacks and feel liberated by the better choice you are making for yourself and your family.

Read these next

The problem with refined sugar

3 healthy vegan snacks to satisfy a sweet tooth

21 easy vegan sandwich filling ideas for lunchboxes (without soy or added sugar)

Top tips to get kids to eat healthy foods

Your ultimate guide to an eco-friendly kitchen

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