With sugar and sugary drinks featuring in the news so much this week, here are some thoughts on the sugar debate and some tips and advice on how to keep sugar levels under control. Whilst fizzy drinks are a key player in this debate, and have been the focus of this week’s publicity, there are a number of other culprits which are more relevant to little ones.
Awareness of the impact of sugar on babies and toddlers – both in terms of their teeth and bodyweight has grown significantly over the last few years. When Sam (now 12) was little, diluted fruit juice, raisins and flavoured rice cakes were snacks he ate on a regular basis. They felt healthy and were certainly marketed as such. On many occasions, Sam would be handed a little box of raisins or flavoured rice cakes to keep him quiet whilst we were out shopping or to keep him going until lunch or tea time. He was such an active little boy, there was no chance of him getting fat and luckily his teeth didn’t suffer as a result. Some of my friends weren’t so lucky and their little ones needed fillings in their milk teeth.
Despite all the advice and our good intentions, sugar is all around us and, whilst we can carefully monitor the diets of our very little ones, as soon as children get a little older they will be exposed to sugar. Unfortunately, sugary snacks do taste delicious to most people so helping our children learn to manage their behaviour in relation to sugar from an early age is really important. I really believe children should be allowed sugary treats sometimes, allowing a little in moderation will, I feel, help them grow up with a balanced approach to food, rather than encouraging food fads. I would also much prefer them to be eating natural sugar occasionally rather than products flavoured with some of the many artificial sweeteners available nowadays.
Here are some ideas and tips I’ve picked from articles I’ve read over the last few years to help keep the sugar under control:
Generally viewed as a healthy drink, packed with vitamin C and other nutritional goodies – fruit juice is packed full of sugar. Whilst the whole fruit is good for our children (lots of vitamins, antioxidants and fibre), the processing of fruit to turn it into fruit juice increases the sugar and teeth damaging acid content.
Water and milk are the healthiest options but some children just don’t like either of these and fruit juice is viewed as the next best option. If offering your child fruit juice, here are some guidelines:
- Always dilute the fruit juice – for younger babies this should be 10 parts water to 1 part fruit juice. From the age of 2, this ratio can be reduced – although it’s still a good idea to keep diluting fruit juice – at least one part to two parts water.
- If your child is used to drinking fruit juice undiluted, start by diluting the juice just a little bit so they are unlikely to notice. As they get used to the new taste, you can dilute a little more.
- Serve fruit juice (diluted) at meals. This reduces the chance of tooth decay as the acid will get mixed with other foods and has less chance to damage the teeth.
- Offer fruit juice in an open cup or through a straw – never in a bottle. This way the fruit sugars have less direct contact with the teeth
Some breakfast cereals are major culprits on the sugar front – with even some of the ‘healthier’ cereals having a high sugar content. It’s worth double checking the sugar content of favourite cereals. If it feels too high to be eating regularly:
- Offer alternatives or limit the occasions when they are allowed it
- Weekends only, every other day, holidays
- Mix with another healthier cereal so the sugar content is not as high
- If they really won’t eat healthier cereals, offer other options such as wholegrain toast, scrambled eggs or boiled eggs and soldiers etc.
Cleaning teeth straight after breakfast when sweet cereals have been eaten can also lead to problems. Janet Clarke from the British Dental Association explains ‘while regular brushing is essential, you should avoid it within 30 minutes of eating sweet foods as it increases the acid erosion on teeth’
Raisins are such a great little snack for toddlers – packed full of nutrients and the process of taking the raisins out of the little box is not only good for hand / eye coordination but also keeps little ones busy for a while! Snacks like this don’t need to be completely excluded from your little one’s diet – we just need to think about when to offer them
- As a snack immediately after mealtimes when the extra saliva from the meal helps protect teeth from acid attacks
- Serving the snack in one sitting – rather than letting your child graze over a long period – this is when sugars and acids do most damage
- Offering something alkaline such as cheese afterwards which helps neutralise the bacteria which cause decay. This is something I did for Florence – she was allowed her raisins (which kept her quiet for a few minutes and gave me a welcome few minutes of peace!) and was then given a chunk of cheese. This not only reassured me her teeth were not being damaged, but also improved the quality of the snack and filled her up for a little longer.
Here are some alternative healthy, less sugary snack ideas:
- Cubes of cheese
- Slices of apple
- Breadsticks – with or without healthy dips such as houmous, soft cheese
- Plain popcorn
- Oatcakes / pitta bread – either plain or with dips / soft cheese
- Raw vegetables
- Toast / Sandwiches – made at home with savoury fillings
As always our tunic bibs and bibs can help keep little ones clean when at home or out and about and our splash mats which can also double up as mini table cloths or picnic mats can help manage the mess at snack time when at home.