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This article is from the WebMD Feature Archive

The hidden sugars we’re feeding our children

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Most kids have a sweet tooth. Chocolate, sweets and ice cream are firm favourites for many youngsters. It’s relatively easy for parents to limit these to occasional treats but there are hidden sugars in foods you may not be aware of.

Sugar isn’t all bad. It’s naturally occurring in many foods and makes foods taste nicer. The body needs carbohydrates for energy and sugar is a source of carbohydrates.

It’s only a problem if we have too much sugar, too often.

Sugar has few nutrients but plenty of calories, so too much of it makes your children's diet less healthy. It’s also incredibly easy to over eat sugary foods.

Nutrition Scientist, Dr Elisabeth Weichselbaum says: "It is perfectly fine to eat small amounts of foods and drinks high in sugar in a healthy and balanced diet, but these foods should be seen as occasional treats rather than a daily staple."

What’s happens if you have too much sugar

Excess sugar in the body can eventually be stored as body fat. If you are overweight or obese you are at greater risk of heart disease.

Dr Weichselbaum, who’s spokesperson for the British Nutrition Foundation says: "Overweight and obesity in young life is associated with a higher risk of being overweight or obese in later life, which is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes."

Sugar for some children can affect their mood and behaviour; a spike of high sugar can make them hyperactive and then have a slump when the rush wears off.

It can cause tooth decay, especially as children aren’t always rigorous about cleaning those hard to reach places.

How much sugar should a child have?

Guidelines in the UK suggest that added sugars should make up less than 10% of the calories you eat.

The British Dietetic Association says the maximum recommended daily intake of sugars (excluding lactose milk sugar) is approximately 60 grams per day (10% of our total calorie intake) for adults. There is no definitive figure for children but dependent on the recommended calorie intake for their age, it should be 10% or less.

This includes honey, table sugar and sugars in fruit juices and processed foods.

Foods with hidden sugar

A bag of sweets screams out sugar but what about stealth sugars in surprising foods.

You may feel virtuous sending your child off to school after a breakfast of cereal and orange juice but that could be a massive part of their daily sugar ration.

Which? examined 50 top-selling cereals and found sugar levels in 32 out of 50 of them were extremely high.

The worst culprits were cereals that are marketed to children. Only two out of the 14 children's cereals looked at, Weetabix and Rice Krispies, were not high in sugar.

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