Adrian here! There are a whole host of reasons for being worried about our children’s sugar intake. When I was a kid it was all about the damage done to teeth by sugar but now there’s a lot more on our radar to be concerned about.
There’s been a huge rise in recent decades in the number of children becoming overweight or obese.
Children are also developing food intolerances, allergies and autoimmune conditions like diabetes in much higher numbers than before due to problems with their immune systems.
Our children’s mental health is also seems more under threat than ever, with a steep rise in conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
It’s now known from scientific studies that one thing all these conditions have in common is a malfunctioning microbiome.
Those friendly bacteria that we used to think were just passengers turn out to be fundamental for our children’s health and development.
So what’s causing all this damage to our children’s friendly bacteria? There are many factors but a key culprit is… you guessed it, sugar!
I hand over to Naomi now for action steps that parents can take to reduce their children’s sugar intake.
By the way, these strategies apply to grown-ups too!
Consuming high amounts of sugar is bad for the gut health of both children and adults but children can be hit hardest by sugar cravings.
Much of the sugar children in the UK consume comes from unhealthy snacks and sweet drinks. Figures show this is mirrored all over the developed world from the US to Canada, Europe and Australia.
On average, primary school children have at least three sugary snacks a day, Public Health England found in a recent report. This means they can easily consume three times more sugar than the recommended maximum.
The overarching objective of the recent health report is to reduce obesity and other sugar-related conditions in children.
To do this children should be eating as much natural, homemade food as possible.
Aim to give your children as little processed food as possible. contains hidden calories in the form of sugar and unhealthy, processed fats (such as hydrogenated trans fats).
Processed food and sugar also damage their microbiome (gut bacteria) resulting in further cravings for yet more sugar and processed food.
There are mixed messages for parents out there such as: go low fat, go fat free, go sugar free. It can be thoroughly confusing and overwhelming! So to cut through the noise, here is what I recommend:
Avoid low-fat and sugar-free options
For two main reasons:
- The sugar in sugar-free options is generally replaced with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame which are highly neurotoxic (harmful to our brain) and also damage our friendly gut microbes.
- Low fat options often contain either more sugar, more sweetener and/or more salt. This is because when fat is removed from food, it tastes less good so manufacturers try to compensate in any way they can.
What Can We Do?
1. Use natural sweeteners – Try making your own snacks using natural sweeteners such as honey, date syrup or maple syrup.
2. Choose good quality fats – full fat bio-live yoghurt, avocado, nuts, oily fish, quality animal meats, coconut oil.
Fats are crucial for proper brain functioning and cell signalling (sending messages between cells). In fact, your child’s brain is 60% fat and all their tiny cells are housed inside a fatty cell membrane.
Both children and adult brains function best when they are fuelled by these good fats, not the bad trans-fats which are commonly found in processed foods such as cakes, pastries, crisps, and cereals.
3. Support your child’s beneficial gut bacteria
The bad bacteria that may be residing in your child’s gut feed off sugar. These bacteria send messages to the brain via the Vagus nerve to eat yet more sugar.
Therefore, the more bad or ‘unfriendly’ bacteria in their gut, the more sugar cravings your child will have.
What we need to do therefore is kill off the bad bacteria by starving them of sugar. In theory this is simple but in reality it is a lot harder as sugar cravings can be so hard to resist.
The best way to start to boost your child’s friendly gut bugs is to introduce probiotic rich foods or supplements.
Probiotics or ‘good’ bacteria live off undigested fibre (in the form of fruit and vegetables) as oppose to sugar and they therefore send a different message to the brain, to eat more fibre and wholesome unprocessed foods.
Over the course of days and weeks, the good bacteria in your child’s gut will proliferate and crowd out the bad bacteria, in the process dampening down the sugar cravings.