dental, Diet, Mum

The Sweet Problem in our Children’s Diet

A new Change4LIfe campaign has been launched in the UK regarding the choice of healthier snacks for children which aims to help combat childhood obesity and reduce the daily intake of sugar.

From a dentists point of view this is great! We really want kids to have less sugar, especially as the number of tooth extractions on children under the age of four is steadily increasing (further info)

So how much sugar is too much?

The government has provided advice on a recommended maximum amount of sugar in the diet of children based on their age:

  • 11+ years – 7 sugar cubes (30g)
  • 7-10 years – 6 sugar cubes (24g)
  • 4-6 years – 5 sugar cubes

There is no guideline limit for children under the age of 4 but it is definitely recommended to be less than that of older children and ideally restricted as much as possible. There is some really useful advice on the change4life website regarding sugar.

So, how much sugar is an average child having. Let’s take a look at a possible day in the life of a young child

Breakfast:

Slice of White toast and 1tbsp Jam = 8.6g (1.7 sugar cubes)

0r 30g Bowl of multigrain hoops = 5g (1 sugar cube)

Or 100g bowl of fruit (strawberries and raspberries) = 7.6g (1.5 sugar cubes)

Lunch:

.5 can baked beans on slice of white bread = 13.9g (2.8 sugar cubes)

0r Ham sandwich, packet of cheese and onion crisps = 3.2g (0.6 sugar cubes)

Child’s strawberry and banana fromage frais = 11.4g (2.3 sugar cubes)

Dinner :

Cottage pie Readymeal = 6.5g (1.3 sugar cubes)

Or Homemade spaghetti bolognese (recipe here) = 10.1g (2 sugar cubes)

1 scoop Ice cream = 10.9g (2.2 sugar cubes)

Or 1 pot chocolate mousse = 14.4g

Drinks:

‘No added sugar’ Chocolate milk mix = 10.8g (2.2 sugar cubes)

No added sugar blackcurrant squash = 0.6g (a very small and hardly worth mentioning sugar cube but watch out for the acid!!)

125ml coke = 13g (2.6 sugar cubes)

150ml apple juice = 16.7g (3.3 sugar cubes)

Snacks:

Chocolate Muffin = 35.2g (7.1 sugar cubes!!!!!)

2 custard creams = 6.8g (1.4 sugar cubes)

1 apple = 23g (4.6 sugar cubes)

1 small packet raisins = 29.5g (5.9 sugar cubes!!)

From this, it is easy to see how young children are eating too much sugar on a daily basis, even when we have the best of intentions .

Example Day:

Bowl of multigrain hoops with drink of chocolate milk

Ham sandwich, crisps and yoghurt with apple juice

Spaghetti Bolognese and Ice Cream

2 custard creams

= 68g of Sugar

= 13.6 sugar cubes

= 2-4 times the suggested amount

Quite shocking really, isn’t it?

The biggest problem lies with what we call ‘free sugars’ or ‘extrinsic sugars’ or ‘added sugars’. Natural sugar contained in food such as fruit is less of a concern but still worthy of consideration. Now, I am not saying that i’m perfect and I certainly need to look at my own son’s diet more carefully but it is worth us all, as parents, thinking about how much sugar our children are routinely consuming without us thinking about it.

Contrary to popular belief, dentists are not ‘fun sponges’ (a great term I first came across on the Facebook feed of my cousin’s wife!) and I firmly believe in everything in moderation. My parents had it right when I was a kid and sweet treats were kept to once a week. Saturday was ‘sweetie day’ and if that’s what I wanted to spend my pocket money on then thats what I could have ( as long as they were eaten all in one go rather than spread out throughout the day). The same goes for things like cakes, muffins etc.

A general rule of thumb is to avoid ‘grazing’ throughout the day and aim for 3 main meals and 2 snacks or ‘small meals’. Any drinks in between these meals should ideally be just water. There are some really good ideas for snacks and meals on the Change4Life website (including some tasty looking recipes) and also suggestions for ‘food swaps’.

So, lets all start thinking about how much sugar our kids are eating and then we can look at how to reduce it and keep them as healthy as we can do!! Maybe we should look at how much sugar we are eating ourselves and look to set an example for our kids….

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