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Would you give your child a beer? Changing our attitudes towards sugar

Sugar should be an occasional treat but it shouldn’t be an everyday habit for our young kids, writes nutritionist Ciara Wright.

Ciara Wright Senior nutritionist

JUST AS WE are settling into school routines and lunch boxes, research from the University of Leeds grips the headlines; yoghurts are full of sugar, even the seemingly healthy ones.

Under the Associate Professor of Obesity, Dr Bernadette Moore, the team recorded the sugar content of almost 1,000 yoghurts. The news is not good.

The brands marketed directly at children are some of the worst offenders. By comparison, they have more sugar per 100g than the average cola drink. We’ve all heard the stats on obesity and the particularly dire future that Ireland is facing as we are set to become Europe’s fattest nation.

How is this happening when we know so much about food? One suggestion is that a huge amount of sugar is sneaking into our diet without our awareness. In all honesty, have you any idea how much sugar you put into your mouth per day?

The bliss point

The food industry spends quite a bit of money researching the palatably of its products, trying to get formulations just right to stimulate our feel-good hormones and trick our brains into wanting more and more. It’s called the “bliss point” and in fairness, it sounds delicious. This is what makes us crave sugar and fat-laden foods.

One reason why Irish people were not as heavy back in the 70s was because the food simply didn’t taste as good. There was also limited access to fried and take-away foods so we didn’t overindulge on high-fat foods as often. But now, oh my, the choice is endless and it all tastes so good.

Another study from the same group at the University of Leeds identified over 540 brands of biscuits on UK shelves in just one supermarket chain. That’s a whole lot of biscuits. Like yoghurts, many were marketed as healthy and the children’s biscuits contained the most amount of sugar. The old adage that “we all ate treats and we turned out okay” doesn’t really add up when you understand that the food industry is getting better and better at its job.

Children are prime candidates for sugar addiction

Children have a heightened perception for sweet foods. It’s an evolutionary thing. They needed to eat high-calorie foods to survive and grow. These days, we are giving our kids huge amounts of sugar, often unknowingly.

Children are getting a taste for sugar – who wants to eat broccoli when a chocolate bar tastes much better? We wouldn’t like our kids to become hooked on other stimulants like alcohol, so perhaps we need to look at sugar addiction in a similar way.

Unhealthy relationship

In Ireland, the number of young people who drink alcohol is declining which is fantastic news. We are finally starting to change attitudes to alcohol consumption. If we made the same progress about sugar, might we be able to avoid our seemingly inevitable march towards obesity?

We all experience sugar cravings but we are not alarmed by it. If you were sitting at your desk craving a glass of wine at 3pm, you might rightly be concerned about your relationship with alcohol. But what if you crave chocolate or a treat every day? And are we setting our kids up for a sugar addiction if we give them their stimulant of choice daily?

An occasional treat

Sugar should be an occasional treat, we don’t need to take away all the joy! But it shouldn’t be an everyday habit for our young kids.

When it’s already sneaking in our yoghurts, sauces, bread and cereals, adding biscuits, bars or sweets is fuelling an addictive cycle they may struggle to break in the future.

Ciara Wright PhD DipNT, Senior Nutritionist and Director of Glenville Nutrition and The Wellness Crew.

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About the author:

Ciara Wright  / Senior nutritionist

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