Sugar: sweet treat or silent killer?

In their new book, child­hood obe­sity ex­perts Pro­fes­sor Michael Go­ran and Emily Ven­tura re­veal the sur­pris­ing ways the white stuff is dam­ag­ing our chil­dren’s health and how we can help them to cut back

Irish Daily Mirror - - HEALTH - ■ Su­garproof by Pro­fes­sor Michael Go­ran and Emily Ven­tura is out now (Ver­mil­ion)

If your chil­dren are over­weight or have fill­ings, you prob­a­bly know sugar is at the root of the is­sue. But there are many other ways that the white stuff af­fects their health that can go un­de­tected.

These in­clude short-term prob­lems with mood, be­hav­iour, mem­ory and abil­ity to con­cen­trate in school, plus up­set­ting di­ges­tion and in­flam­ma­tory con­di­tions such as acne and asthma.

Longer term, there are risks of de­vel­op­ing type 2 di­a­betes and heart dis­ease as well as non-al­co­holic fatty liver dis­ease (NAFLD), which is seen in­creas­ingly in young­sters.

And the slow and of­ten silent pro­gres­sion of chronic con­di­tions starts early in life.

It’s not just that chil­dren to­day are con­sum­ing more sugar than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, they are ac­tu­ally more vul­ner­a­ble than adults.

One of the big wor­ries is the spike in the amount of fructose they are get­ting – sugar found in fruit and veg. Much of this ar­rived sur­rep­ti­tiously, in sweets, yo­gurts and drinks la­belled as “nat­u­rally sweet­ened”, “no ar­ti­fi­cial sug­ars” or “made with 100% juice”.

Even drink­ing freshly squeezed juice pro­vides a rapidly ab­sorbed hit of fructose be­cause the fi­bre from the fruit has been re­moved. But our bod­ies are not de­signed to han­dle con­cen­trated doses of fructose and young chil­dren have an es­pe­cially hard time pro­cess­ing it in the liver, where it is con­verted to fat, which starts to build up lead­ing to NAFLD.

The use of low-calo­rie sweet­en­ers in our food sup­ply is also a prob­lem. Of­ten, prod­ucts mar­keted to school­child­ren have both reg­u­lar and ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers in them.

The pop­u­lar Robin­son’s Fruit Shoot No Added Sugar drinks, for ex­am­ple, con­tain fruit juice con­cen­trates as well as su­cralose and ace­sul­fame K.

These types of sweet­en­ers can lead to a sweeter tooth, an in­crease in calo­rie con­sump­tion, al­tered gut mi­cro­biome and, it seems, long-term con­se­quences for brain health.

The NHS sug­gests that chil­dren aged seven to 10 should have no more than 24g of free sug­ars a day, equiv­a­lent to six sugar cubes, while those aged four to six should have no more than 19g, which is five cubes. But with so many sugar-laden prod­ucts de­signed for chil­dren, how can you help them stay within lim­its?

■ Start by elim­i­nat­ing juice, squash, and fizzy drinks. Kids will adapt to not hav­ing these sur­pris­ingly quickly. Get them used to wa­ter at meals.

■ Check la­bels for ar­ti­fi­cial and low-calo­rie sweet­en­ers on drinks and yo­gurts, such as sac­cha­rin and ste­via. “No added sugar” of­ten means they con­tain al­ter­na­tive sweet­en­ers.

■ Be wary of pre-pack­aged snacks that are mar­keted to kids. Prod­ucts such as rice cakes for tod­dlers are of­ten coated with juice con­cen­trates.

■ Start the day with­out added sugar. In­stead of juice, of­fer wa­ter or milk. Swap jam on toast and pan­cakes with syrup for a fruit com­pote, nut or seed but­ter or a soft cheese such as ri­cotta. Choose por­ridge or unsweet­ened boxed ce­re­als too.

■ Eval­u­ate staples in your cup­boards. Foods like baked beans, soups, pasta sauces and tomato sauce can all be sur­pris­ingly high in sug­ars. One ta­ble­spoon of ketchup can con­tain 4g of sugar.

■ Save sweets for spe­cial oc­ca­sions. Try roasted nuts, plain pop­corn or fresh fruit in­stead.

■ Con­sider bak­ing lower sugar treats. Cut the amount of sugar the recipe calls for by up to half.

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