How much sugar is too much for our children?

It’s the sweet poison our kids love, but what is sugar really doing to our children? Dietitian Susie Burrell explains.

For some time, there has been much discussion in the media about the amounts of sugar the average adult eats on a daily basis. Unfortunately, we have heard far less about the enormous amounts of sugar our children are consuming and the huge impact this can have on their weight, metabolism and dental health long term.

So how much sugar is your child eating? You may be surprised where it is slipping into their diets.

The funny thing about sugar is that it is naturally occurring in a number of foods. For example, fruits contain the natural sugar fructose while dairy contains the natural sugar lactose. Indeed, small amounts (20-30g) of natural sugars consumed each day as part of a healthy diet poses no real health issues.

The issue in modern diets is that we are very good at concentrating these sugars – turning fresh fruit into juice with 2-3 times the amount of sugars you would get from a piece of fruit, or consuming milk in a smoothie that also has honey and fruit added (which gives you another 20-30g of sugars without even realising it!). It is these concentrated sources of sugar, as well as the huge amounts of added sugars found in many processed foods that tips our, and our kids, intake of added sugars over the edge.

When it comes to kids’ diets it is actually quite challenging to keep their daily sugar intake low, simply because so many of the popular kids foods contain added sugars. Over the past 5-10 years, food manufacturers have been working to significantly reduce the sugar content of popular kids foods, including muesli bars, breakfast cereals and snack foods. While this is a step in the right direction, there are still plenty of fruit snacks, drinks, flavoured yoghurts and biscuits that are packed full of added sugars.

High sugar foods increase blood glucose levels over time, increase the desire we have for sweet foods and leave our teeth more vulnerable to tooth decay. For this reason, the less of these sugars we expose our kids to on a daily basis, the better.

While there is no set amount of sugar we need, the less added sugar we consume in our diet the better. As a general rule of thumb, choosing packaged foods that do not list sugar on the ingredient list is a step in the right direction, and looking for products that contain less than 10g of sugars per 100g, or less than 5g per serve. When it comes to added sugars, the less we consume the better, and less than 20-30g of added sugars per day for children is ideal.

Catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show to see more expert health advice from Zoe, Ed, and the team.