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It can be con­fronting to re­alise how easy it is to serve our chil­dren meals and snacks we per­ceive as healthy, but are se­cretly laden with sugar. My pas­sion for health and nu­tri­tion ex­tends to de­liv­er­ing work­shops at schools and I love the re­ac­tions I see when I run through sugar con­tent of par­tic­u­lar foods. There seems to be not just a lack of ed­u­ca­tion around the sub­ject, but a dis­as­so­ci­a­tion of re­spon­si­bil­ity be­tween sug­ary foods and how they set up a life­time of health con­se­quences. A strong im­mune sys­tem is the holy grail of health, so it’s in­ter­est­ing to note there’s ev­i­dence shown that sugar has an im­mune­sup­press­ing ef­fect. Other is­sues that re­late to teens such as anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties and sleep is­sues are also thought to be a con­se­quence of too much sugar in the diet.

Un­for­tu­nately, there is no gov­ern­ing body to reg­u­late what’s sold at super­mar­kets in re­gards to sugar con­tent in foods, so it’s wise to be­gin tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for what’s loaded into your trol­ley.

Apart from the fact that sweet­ness makes a prod­uct more ad­dic­tive, there re­ally is no pro­duc­tive rea­son to add re­fined sugar to foods whether you’re an adult or child.

The World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion sug­gests we main­tain a daily in­take of fewer than 25g of added su­gars (or six to eight tea­spoons), which isn’t a lot if you con­sider a can of soft drink may have eight tea­spoons alone. In my eyes, a small amount of honey to sweeten oat­meal or to add to a smoothie is fine (or try fruc­tose-free rice malt syrup) — as long as it’s taken into con­sid­er­a­tion for the day’s in­take. To make things eas­ier, here are six ways to help curb your kids’ sugar demons:

1. Dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween sweet and sugar

If your child is on the hunt for some­thing sweet, of­fer fruit in­stead. Get creative and make ice blocks or fruit ke­babs. A word of cau­tion though: try to re­main aware of the dif­fer­ence be­tween your child be­ing truly hun­gry or want­ing some­thing to eat due to bore­dom or emo­tional is­sues. Of­fer­ing meals that in­clude pro­tein and healthy fats will be ben­e­fi­cial in main­tain­ing en­ergy lev­els and hin­der snack­ing be­tween meals.

2. Learn to read food la­bels

The su­per­mar­ket is where it all be­gins. If you don’t know how to read food la­bels then you are re­ly­ing on mar­ket­ing ex­perts who will lead us to be­lieve any­thing is healthy.

3. Make your own

If you make your own snacks and bakes then you can con­trol the amount of sugar.

4. Skip dessert

There is no rea­son dessert should be of­fered ev­ery night. Ul­ti­mately the habit en­forces that your kids should leave room for “some­thing bet­ter”. If your child is gen­uinely still hun­gry af­ter a big day, then of­fer oat­meal, fruit or nat­u­ral yo­ghurt for dessert. If they turn their noses up at this then it’s usu­ally a good in­di­ca­tion of their true hunger level. Book­end­ing meals with some­thing sweet can de­velop a habit that is dif­fi­cult to break later in life.

5. Sip smarter

Sure, keep a few pop­pers in the cup­board as a treat when the kids have been busy, but they shouldn’t be part of your child’s ev­ery­day diet. With­out the fi­bre con­tent that comes with whole fruit, these drinks en­ter the blood­stream quickly, which in ex­cess leads to in­sulin re­sis­tance.

6. Iden­tify hid­den sugar sources

Sugar can be lurk­ing in sauces, bread, jams, peanut but­ter, kids’ chewy vi­ta­mins, bis­cuits, muesli bars, ce­re­als and the list goes on. Most foods these days have added sugar in some form so this is an­other rea­son it’s im­por­tant to read food la­bels. Ed­u­cate your child with gen­tle guid­ance to un­der­stand what they are eat­ing and they will be­gin to de­velop re­spon­si­bil­ity for nu­tri­tion in later life.

KARLA GILBERT Cham­pion iron­woman and ocean ath­lete Karla Gilbert is an ac­cred­ited nu­tri­tion and health coach and cer­ti­fied Level III and IV Fit­ness Trainer, with cer­tifi­cates in Child Nu­tri­tion and Nu­tri­tion. She has just re­leased her first ebook, Naked Habits.

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