It's hard to picture a child without a sweet tooth. If kids had their way, every meal would consist of frosting, sprinkles and ice cream sandwiches. Luckily, they have you to make sure they eat a well-balanced diet. We all know it's okay to have sugar every now and then, but how much is too much?
How much sugar can my child have?
Guidelines about sugar intake vary, but doctors generally agree: the fewer sweets you consume, the better. The World Health Organization recommended children get no more than 10 percent of their total energy from sugar. According to the BBC, kids between ages 4 and 6 should have no more than 19 grams - or 5 teaspoons - of sugar per day. Kids 7 to 10 should have no more than 24 grams or 6 teaspoons, and those 11 and up should have a maximum of 30 grams or 7 teaspoons.
How sugar affects children
Many parents believe sugar can change a child's behavior and make them hyperactive, but there's no conclusive scientific evidence supporting this claim. Dr. Mark Wolraich, chief of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center, told Live Science that although eating a piece of cake can give a boost of energy to a child with low blood sugar, it doesn't do the same for one who isn't hypoglycemic.
"The body will normally regulate those sugars," he explained to the publication. "If it needs it, it will use the energy. If it doesn't need it, it will convert it to fat for storage."
Often, a parent's expectations that sugar makes children hyper will cloud the way they view their child's behavior. One study from the 1990s found mothers who were told their sons were given pure sugar saw them as more hyperactive, even if the child was given a placebo.
"Too much sugar leads to tooth decay and weight gain."
Still, that's no reason to give your kid an all-access pass to the cookie jar. Too much sugar leads to tooth decay and an expensive trip to the dentist. Plus, as Dr. Wolraich noted, excess sugar causes weight gain, and it's one of the biggest culprits in childhood obesity. According to the WHO, studies showed children who consume a lot of sugary drinks like juice and soda are more likely to be overweight or obese than kids who only drink them every once in a while. Sugary drinks might also be a factor in the rise of type 2 diabetes among Canadian children.
Monitoring your child's sugar intake
The main problem with sugar is that it's often hidden in not-so-obvious places. Condiments like ketchup and barbecue sauce have tons of added sugar, as do some healthy treats like granola and flavored yogurt. If you want to be vigilant, check the nutrition facts table and ingredients list of the food you buy for your children.
The best way to prevent your kids from eating too much sugar is to instill healthy eating habits. Each of your child's meals should contain something from the four food groups: fruits and vegetables, meat and alternatives, milk and alternatives and grains. Still, we all know kids are picky eaters, so it may take some time before they warm up to certain foods. Keep trying - it often takes a few trials before children decide they actually like vegetables.
One way to get kids to eat healthy is to be a model eater yourself. Kids learn a lot from their parents, and you can show them how to balance a good meal and the occasional sweet treat.