Easy Ways to Trim Sugar in Children’s Diets & Get More Exercise
Childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the last 50 years, and too much sugar and fat in children’s diets are largely to blame.
Many children are getting excessive amounts of sugar every day from sodas, cookies, cakes, candy and other calorie-rich desserts such as puddings and ice cream, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
At the same time, children aren’t getting enough nutrition-packed foods such as whole grains, whole fruits, and vegetables. They’re also not exercising enough.
Too much sugar in your child’s diet can:
- Promote inflammation
- Lead to cavities
- Cause potential physical and psychological harm
- Produce addiction-like effects. Sugar addiction is shown to have similarities with some types of drug addictions
- Contribute to obesity
- Lead to malnutrition – children who eat too many empty calories or sugary foods feel full faster and consume fewer nutritious foods.
Here are some easy ways to cut down on sugar in children’s diets:
- Eat whole fruits and vegetables. A whole apple has lots of fiber and other nutrients that are beneficial to our bodies and offset the naturally occurring sugar, whereas a glass of apple juice doesn’t.
- Cut back on sugary drinks. Soda, fruit punch, lemonade and many juice drinks can have 40 grams of sugar or more. Instead, choose water, milk or low-calorie drinks such as NADI rosehip drink, which has just 9 calories and zero sugar.
- Bring snacks from home. Instead of reaching for empty calories like pretzels or potato chips, pack healthier snacks from home such as carrot sticks and cheese.
- Cook at home. Food at restaurants tends to have more calories and more sugar than foods you prepare at home. Also, dipping sauces and condiments such as ketchup and barbecue sauce can have the equivalent of 1 tablespoon or more of sugar per serving.
- Avoid processed foods. Anything wrapped in cellophane that can sit at room temperature for months or can be kept in a refrigerator for months probably has lots of preservatives or added sugar. Cooking from scratch lets you control exactly what goes into your food.
- Replace high-sugar foods with foods that are lower in sugar. For example, replace sugary cereals and flavored oatmeal with plain cereals such as shredded wheat and plain oatmeal. Add sliced bananas or berries for sweetness.
- Treat your kids to healthy after-school snacks, such as pita bread with hummus, veggie sticks, or a homemade oat bar.
- Sugar can sneak in unexpected foods. Some foods that don’t even taste sweet can be surprisingly high in sugar. Before purchasing food items, remember to read food labels. Look for products that do not contain sugar or sugar aliases such as sucrose, maltose, cane syrup, and dextrose.
Kids also need to stay active and get more exercise as part of a healthier lifestyle.
Here are some easy ways to help children get the exercise their growing bodies need:
- Take walks: Walking to school or taking a walk as a family on the weekends is a great way to keep everyone healthy and fit.
- Play outside: Shooting hoops, playing catch or using sidewalk chalk to make a game of hopscotch will keep little ones active.
- Fly kites: Running around a large open field to keep kites aloft is terrific exercise.
- Park far away: When running errands or bringing children to athletic events, park on the far side of the parking lot to get some extra steps.
- Do chores together: Vacuuming, putting away laundry and picking up toys are great exercise and doing chores together teaches children responsibility.
- Lead by example: You are your child’s role model. They watch and imitate you. When your children watch you participating in sports and physical activities, they are likely to follow suit.
- Give gifts that promote physical activity: Typical examples include rollerblades, ice skates, soccer balls, and bicycles.
- Make exercise fun: Kids are more likely to stick to the activities they enjoy. Come up with ideas to make exercise fun. Involve your whole family or invite your kids’ friends for a walk, or pump up the volume and have a dance party.
- Limit TV and computer time: Limit the time your child spends watching TV and playing video games to 1-2 hours every day. Encourage your kids to join a local recreation center or after-school program or to take lessons in their favorite sport.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Reduce Sugar in a Child’s Diet?
Here are some tips to reduce sugar in your child’s diet:
- Treat them to healthy homemade snacks instead of processed, sugary snacks, and junk foods.
- Come up with new and innovative ideas to encourage your child to eat more fruits and veggies.
- Eliminate or reduce sugary drinks such as sodas, lemonades, energy/sports drinks, and fruit punch.
- Cook more at home as food from outside tends to have more sugar and calories.
- Replace processed foods with whole foods.
What Does Sugar Do To a Child’s Brain?
Various studies have linked excess sugar intake to psychological problems in children. The hypothalamus of kids who consume excess sugar releases cortisol, a hormone known to impede memory. Children who indulge in too much sugar find it hard to maintain their focus and attention. Various studies have found a link between sugar overconsumption and brain damage.
Can Sugar Affect a Child’s Behavior?
Many parents and educators claim that children are more likely to be hyperactive after consuming a sugary snack. There is little evidence to suggest that excess sugar consumption causes hyperactivity. The jury is still out on whether there is a correlation between too much sugar consumption and hyperactivity. Various studies on the topic are underway.
How Much Sugar is too much for a Child?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids below two years should not be given any sugar at all. Children above two years should not be given more than 25 grams of added sugar daily.