Controlling your child's sugar intake

Thursday, August 15, 2013

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IT tastes good and is packaged in ways that make it difficult to refuse, but the allure of sugar has put a number of parents in a bind as they are forced to choose daily between giving in to their children's demands or safeguarding their health.

"I know I shouldn't give in to her, but then basically everything nowadays is packed with sugar," said mother of one Myzanne Wallace in reference to her four-year-old daughter and sweet snacks.

"After she pleads and begs for a few minutes, I just have to give in," she added.

But paediatrician Dr Jacqueline Wright-James said excessive sugar consumption is not a habit that parents should encourage in their children.

"It's best to discourage a sweet tooth from early. When you are introducing foods to infants, you should start with the vegetables first before giving them fruits," she advised.

"If you think it is bad, just keep them away from it," she said.

Excessive sugar consumption is among the things being blamed for an increase in childhood obesity and diabetes. When your child fills up on junk, it means less room for nutritious meals that are essential for growth.

If your child has been bitten by the sugar bug, here are some possible strategies you can try to curb their appetite for sweets.

1. Don't give sweets as rewards. Don't ever promise your children a lollipop each time they achieve something, for good behaviour or when they are upset, or you might be forced into a position where you'll have to give them a candy for every little thing. Giving candy for comfort could lead to them forming a bad association between emotions and food. Instead, offer your children rewards such as stickers, books, or even toys.

2. Study your labels. Don't always expect to see the word "sugar" in the ingredient listing when choosing snacks for your children. Sugar has many aliases, so be very vigilant. Some of the other names for sugar are fructose, lactose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, maltose, molasses, evaporated cane juice, barley malt, dextrose, ethyl maltol and honey. "Even the natural juices have their sugars, so it's best to cut back on the juice and introduce water," the paediatrician said.

3. Don't ban sweets entirely. Don't be overzealous in your efforts to raise a healthy child by completely banning sugar from your child's diet. This is probably one of the quickest ways to create a sweet-starved monster who will stop at nothing to satisfy her cravings; and since you won't be around your child 24/7, there are plenty of opportunities for them to do so. We always seem to crave what we don't have, so it's OK to give your child a sweet treat every now and then. An ice-cream cone at Devon House every once in a while is not necessarily a bad thing.

4. Select healthier options. Although there is a preponderance of unhealthy foods available, there are also healthier alternatives too. Adding sliced fruits to yogurt or a bowl of cereal, for example, are great ways to satisfy your child's need to have a bit of sugar. Frozen fruit smoothies, popsicles made from fruit juices, and homemade pizzas topped with select fruits are great choices when you want to incorporate a bit of sugar in your child's diet.

5. Cut back on sweet beverages. One of the culprits for childhood sugar addiction is the frizzy drinks parents pack in their children's lunch kits for break-time snacks. Liquid calories do add up, so think twice before giving your child soda, energy drinks and beverages that contain fruit juice concentrate. "In fact, if you noticed, in the US they don't sell sodas in school cafeterias," Dr Wright-James pointed out. Instead, give them milk, water and homemade fruit juice.

6. Keep them close to natural foods. If you have a toddler who absolutely refuses to eat anything without sweets, try to keep them as close to healthy as possible. Instead of sweetening their porridge with brown sugar, for example, you could try honey which is more nutritionally sound. The same goes for homemade desserts and other treats. With Jamaica becoming more health-conscious, health foods stores are now stocking up on healthier alternatives to sugar, so do your checks.

7. Serve dessert after meals. It's going to be hard to get your child away from sweets, so level the playing field by allowing them to have a chocolate bar, for example, after they have finished eating the healthy dinner you prepared. They will be more willing to eat their vegetables and proteins when they know dessert follows.

8. Make the connection. Children are often told that sugars are bad, but are often not told why. Instead of demonising sugar, explain to them what happens with excessive sugar consumption. This way they'll make the choice to limit their intake even when you are not around. "Let them know from early how it affects their weight and teeth," Dr Wright-James said.




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