From the minute you are blessed to be a parent there is an instinct built within everyone to nurture and protect your children so that they will grow up to be the most healthy person they can be. Creating good habits seems easy at the start because as the parent you are 100% in control of what they eat and drink. As they get older and the babies turn into school age children which in turn become teenagers and eventually adults, parents need to be confident that they have given their offspring the confidence and knowledge to continue to make good decisions for themselves.
An in vogue trend
‘No sugar’ diets are very current in the media at the moment. I have no doubt you will be aware of a few celebrities who endorse sugar free diets and probably even a few friends who have tried them. I love food and eating so much. It’s on the top of my list of favourite things to do. I know that I would find it very difficult to give up all sugar and be strict with myself to stick to the plan. However, I do try to follow a lower sugar diet. Not doing anything to the extreme but realising the many health benefits from a diet that is lower in sugars. By following these ideas I can still indulge in sweet treats on occasion knowing that I am being mostly good the rest of the time.
Advantages of reducing your sugar intake
- Helps with weight loss
- Reduces tooth decay and keeps teeth healthy
- Helps to keep a stable mood and energy levels consistent
- Keeps skin clearer
- Improved mental health – less anxiety and depression
- Lowers the risk of heart disease
A dental background
My keen interest in reducing sugars in my family’s diet has developed as a result of me working as a dentist for 16 years (up until my move to the USA). Sugars found in our diets have been at the forefront of my mind for all of my adult life after hours spent in lecture theatres learning all the science behind dental decay (don’t worry I won’t go into that here!) and then seeing first hand the damage that the decay causes to children and adults. I will not be able to forget removing teeth from very small children because of extensive decay which was causing them pain and their parents the mental anguish of seeing their children so upset. Seeing these situations inevitably led me to recommend a lower sugar lifestyle.
My approach for my own family
I am lucky that none of us in our house are big fans of candy or sweets. Perhaps that is because I do not buy them! I’m not saying we’ve never had sweets it would be unrealistic to avoid something completely. Here are my tips on how to reduce sugar in your families diet.
- Avoid buying the sugary food – then it is not there to eat.
- Stick to plain water or plain milk to drink. Avoid sparkling water, juices, chocolate milk or milkshakes.
- Save fizzy drinks/sodas for special occasions – when you do have them encourage your children to drink through a straw that way the fizzy soda will go
straight to the back of their mouth rather washing round their teeth.
- Come up with a list of healthy snacks that are lower in sugar and have these ready prepared and on hand (see below for my suggestions).
- Read the ingredients label of products and avoid high fructose corn syrup. Many sugars will be disguised on the label by their scientific name – glucose, maltose, lactose etc. A basic hint is that anything that ends in -ose is likely to be a hidden sugar.
- It will take time to get used to the taste of sugary foods and probably the cravings you have for them but stick with it – it is definitely worth it!
- Don’t have anything but water to drink in the hour before bed and only give children water during the night.
Visualise how much sugar is in food
It can be tricky to understand how much sugar is in products. An easy way to visualise this is to convert the grams of sugar per serving into the number of teaspoons. For example:
According to the USDA a 250ml/1cup serving of chocolate milk has 24g of sugar in it. To convert this to teaspoons divide by 4. So 24 divided 4 = 6 teaspoons of sugar per serving!
How many parents would consciously let their child eat 6 whole teaspoons of sugar? I’m guessing not many as seeing the amount of sugar in its purest form is very eye opening. Try this for yourselves at home. Look at cereal boxes, yogurts, juice drinks, sodas. I think you’ll be surprised!
Ideas for lower sugar snacks
- Cheese – there are so many forms of cheese available. Have fun choosing a new cheese!
- Cut up cucumber and carrots and dip in a savoury dip like hummus
- Have a piece of toast with butter and a savoury topping. Eg marmite, peanut butter, cream cheese
- Savoury crackers and breadsticks
- Plain yogurt with a fresh fruit topping
- Deli meats such as turkey, chicken and ham make tasty snacks
- Make food fun for children and get them involved making it. They are more likely to eat it if they have helped.
Smiling and healthy people are the happiest people!
I would love to hear your thoughts on following a lower sugar diet.