Almost everything the average American child eats contains added sugar. Foods marketed to children, like cereals, fruit snacks, juices, and fast food, are often excessive sugar. Even if the packaging mentions things like whole-grain or depicts fruit, parents should remember that looks can be deceiving.
Many parents don’t realize just how much sugar their children are consuming. If left unchecked, the continuous consumption of added sugar can significantly affect your child’s health. Sugar addiction may not sound like a real problem, but it can significantly negatively impact your child.
Here’s what parents should know about the adverse effects of excessive sugar consumption in childhood.
What Is Sugar Addiction?
Sugar may not be addictive in the same way that illicit substances or alcohol are addictive, but its effects are similar. Anything that excessively stimulates the reward centers of the brain can become addictive. For children, things like sugar and video games can become problematic habits with routine exposure.
Added sugars transform a food into a delicious treat. These sugars do nothing to improve or fortify the nutritional value of a snack. Their main role is to make food taste better. The stimulation from sugar acts as a feel-good indulgence, and this positive feedback loop can create a psychological addiction.
Sugar addiction won’t cause physical withdrawal effects, although many people who want their sugary treat of choice may feel irritable or grumpy if they aren’t allowed to have it.
How Do Children Become Addicted to Sugar?
Children easily become addicted to sugar, as most of the food marketed to children is very high in added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends that children consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day.
The average serving of chocolate milk contains 24 grams of added sugar, essentially meeting the full day’s limit in one small glass. That’s how excessive amounts of sugar creep into children’s lives.
Many parents are busy. That’s why it’s common for the average household to have two working parents in America. Even stay-at-home parents often find themselves overtaxed with appointments, practices, recitals, meetups, and after-school activities.
Parents work hard to meet the needs of their children, and sometimes, just making sure that children are fed has to suffice.
This can lead to parents relying on convenience meals and unhealthy snacks to feed their families. There are plenty of healthier convenience meals and snacks, and many parents believe that they’re already purchasing them. It isn’t always apparent that the foods they’re relying on are full of added sugar.
This makes added sugar the new norm. Parents may not even recognize that added sugars have become a mainstay in their child’s diet, and children will assume that foods with added sugar are the norm.
Over time, children will develop strong preferences for foods with added sugar and may become less interested in whole foods. They won’t taste right to your child when they’re used to the flavor of added sugar in most of the things they eat.
What Are the Consequences of Sugar Addiction?
Nearly 20% of children in America are obese. Although sugar isn’t exclusively to blame, it plays an important role. Added sugars are empty calories that don’t contribute to our overall well-being. The human body would be perfectly content never to consume added sugar, but the standard American diet promotes the opposite.
Sugar dramatically increases the caloric density of foods, adding four calories per gram without improving the satiety factor or nutritional content of foods. A mere 25 grams of added sugar per day adds 100 calories to your intake. The average American consumes about 77 grams of sugar per day or 308 calories. This is the equivalent of 32 pounds of weight gain in a year.
If your child is consuming more sugar than the average American, their weight may increase substantially. This is especially true if your child doesn’t live an active lifestyle. Your child could become obese and experience adverse health effects directly correlated with obesity.
Added sugars are medically recognized as a major contributor to the development of diabetes. Diabetes poses its own set of challenges.
The Benefits of Removing Sugar From Your Child’s Diet
Removing or significantly limiting added sugars in your child’s diet is an absolute must for preserving their health. It’s vital to make healthy eating habits normal for your child. This will increase the chances of maintaining a balanced lifestyle as they begin to assume independence and autonomy in their choices.
Reducing the Risk of Health Complications
The most significant benefit of reducing or removing sugar from your child’s diet is to preserve their health. Keeping a close eye on added sugar is the best way to reduce the risks for childhood health conditions, which can have significant and lingering consequences to your child’s health.
Setting the Foundation for a Healthy Adulthood
If your child is used to eating sugary food or heavily processed food, this will become their idea of normal food. They won’t understand that these foods don’t provide sufficient nutrition. When they make their own food choices, they’re more likely to stick with what they know.
If you normalize whole foods and balanced meals, better choices will become your child’s idea of food. When they’re teenagers and occasionally need to fend for themselves for dinner, they’ll be more likely to prepare a simple meal that’s nutritionally sound. They’ll crave scrambled eggs with veggies instead of sugary cereal when sugary cereal isn’t something they would usually eat.
How To Remove Added Sugars From Your Home
It’s impossible to remove sugar from your child’s diet altogether. If you never allow them to have the occasional indulgence like birthday cake or a snow cone at the beach, you’re not teaching them how to make balanced choices. It’s more important to help them learn to make balanced choices.
Your kids won’t be kids forever. In the blink of an eye, they’ll be in their late teens headed off for college. When that moment happens, you want them to understand how to feed themselves appropriately. If they associate ice cream with a fun day out with their family, they’ll be less likely to keep it stocked in the freezer.
They’ll pair it with a fun memory or a special occasion. That’s the way you should approach added sugars.
The foods you regularly eat and the convenient snacks you keep around the house should contain little to no added sugar. Things like juice drinks are often loaded with added sugar. Swapping them out for flavored seltzers is a better choice. Go for snacks like whole fruits, popcorn, turkey jerky, and low-fat yogurt.
When you prepare meals, it’s as simple as making better choices about what you put on the table for your children. Cooking with whole ingredients and avoiding processed or pre-packaged sauces will help keep the sugar content of your meals down.
Preparing healthy meals can be tricky for busy parents. Cooking meals in big batches ahead of time might be a convenient solution for parents that only have time to cook elaborate meals once or twice a week.
The trick is to have convenient and quick solutions that are nutritionally sound. There’s nothing wrong with grabbing frozen steam-in-bag vegetables and a prepared rotisserie chicken from the deli at your local grocery store. It’s a balanced meal that only takes a few minutes to put together.
Many drive-through options have grilled options and side salads. Keep these things in mind when things get busy.
Helping Picky Eaters Make the Transition with Hiya
Over time, children may associate this added sugar with the way food should taste. They’ll have little to no interest in the way foods without added sugar taste and may become opposed to the idea of eating them.
If your child is having trouble adapting to whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins prepared without sugary additives, they may miss vital nutrients. Ask your child’s pediatrician if they would benefit from a daily multivitamin to help fill the gaps in their diet.
Hiya’s children’s chewable multivitamin is vegan, non-GMO, eco-friendly, and completely sugar-free. It’s the perfect way to help your child get their daily recommended allowance of several key vitamins and minerals they may be missing when they’re still learning to love stir fry and vegetable stew.