Oh, sweet sugar... PDF E-mail
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Baby & toddler
Tuesday, 18 October 2011 15:58

The festive season is under way and mithai is topmost on everyone’s mind. A good time then, to ponder on how much sugar is too much for your toddler. M&B investigates...

Sugar is in almost everything we eat. In addition to the obvious sweet and tempting treats such as candy and cookies, barfis and mithais, cakes and pies, sugar is found naturally in fruit and milk, and is an ingredient in many brands of yoghurt, tomato sauce, and salad dressings. So where does one draw the line? “Eventually, all foods break down into sugars and these are the energy needs of our body.

I think the question here is how much refined sugar is enough for a toddler and the answer should be zero. But naturally, refined sugar is all around us in juices, cakes, chocolates, sweets, desserts and it is so tempting for a child. The trick is to let the child have an occasional treat, but ensure that refined sugar does not become the staple diet of the child,” cautions Mumbai-based nutritionist and M&B expert Sonali Shivlani.

According to the World Health Organisation, everyone should restrict their consumption of added sugars – such as those not naturally present in foods like 100 per cent fruit juice and plain milk – to below 10 per cent of their total calorie intake. For example, a moderately active six-year-old who requires about 1,600 calories a day is allowed up to 40 gms of added sugars each day, the equivalent of 10 level teaspoons of sugar. To back this up, a couple of years ago in 2009, the America Heart Association had released a position paper regarding the importance of monitoring dietary sugar intake. According to the American Heart Association, toddlers should consume only 17 gms of sugar per day. If a toddler consumes between 1,200 and 1,400 calories, this means that between seven and eight per cent of her total calories should be from sugar. This equals out to about 170 calories from sugar per day.

Much has been said about the ill effects of refined sugar. Sonali elucidates, “Besides the regular issues like obesity, risk of diabetes, heart issues, etc, excessive refined sugar in children can cause hyperactivity. It can also lead to mood swings, which mean that when the sugar levels drop, the child is irritable and cranky and may have temper tantrums. Once fed with refined sugar, she may swing back to being lovable. This can pose a vicious cycle as parents may tend to give in to the sugar demands.” Additionally, good habits (and bad) are all formed at an early age. Kids who are accustomed to larger quantities of sweets may well turn out to be adults who crave sugar frequently, thus putting themselves at further health risk.


Nutritionists and paediatricians recommend that parents know what is in the foods that they feed their children, but don’t get too caught up on any one line item on the label. Keeping sugar intake under control can be difficult because many ingredients listed on pre-packaged foods may not be indicated as just ‘sugar’. Parents need to consider the balance between the need for nutrients and sugar content. As Sonali cautions, “Just because your packaged food does not mention refined sugar, it does not mean that there is no sugar. Look for other names for sugar, usually ending in ‘-ose’ like ‘fructose’ or ‘maltose’. Other common names of sugars include high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, sucrose, glucose, dextrose, cane juice, malt, molasses, lactose, honey, ethyl maltol and maltodextrin. Read nutrition labels as well as ingredients lists to uncover any hidden sugars.

SWEET REVENGESonali suggests that in order to keep sugar intake limited, one needs to increase the intake of complex carbohydrates and foods such as:

* whole-grain cereals
* brown rice
* whole-grain breads
* fruits
* vegetables
* low-fat dairy