Celebrity chefs and weight loss experts have been encouraging us to eat less sugar for some years. Sugar is partly to blame for more than 60% of Australian adults who are considered to be overweight or obese. Now research conducted by the Queensland University of Technology has discovered sugar consumption is having an effect on our brains including possible changes in our behaviour.
PhD researcher Masoor Shariff compared sugar consumption to drug abuse and found some similarities in changes to the layout of our brain cells.
With the evidence mounting against sugar, what can you do to wean your child off their high sugar diet?
Your child may only be only a toddler, but if they have been enjoying a diet high in sugar and junk food, they may be addicted to the sweet stuff. When they eat sugary foods dopamine is released in the brain. The organic chemical dopamine works as a neurotransmitter sending signals to other nerve cells. Sugar has a powerful impact on the reward centres of the brain and when it is eaten in large quantities, there are fewer receptors for the dopamine. Over time the effect becomes blunted and so we crave more sugar to get the same level of reward.
Making simple changes to your child’s diet by swapping out foods high in sugar with low sugar options, will improve their diet and long-term health.
Some breakfast cereals seem nutritious. They are labelled as high in fibre, vitamins and minerals but if we could see the hidden sugar, you would never pour it into your child’s breakfast bowl. Try replacing their high processed cereals with porridge, wheat biscuits, muesli and toast. If your kids like to sprinkle sugar on their cereal, encourage them to use fresh, dried or tinned fruit as a healthier option.
Chocolate spread may be your kids go-to for smothering over bread and toast but it’s loaded with sugar. Replace high sugar chocolate and jam spreads with lower sugar options such as peanut butter, vegemite and reduced sugar jam.
Fruit juices should not be given to your child on a daily basis. Juices have high quantities of sugar that coat their teeth leading to decay and adds to the diet’s sugar count. There is little nutritional value in juice so offer whole fruits which have less sugar and the added benefit of fibre.
If your kids are drinking cordial, swap to one that has no added sugar or better still offer water or milk.
Many fat-reduced dairy products have more sugar to compensate. Check the labels of yoghurts and flavoured milks to see just how high the sugar content is. It is best to offer plain natural yoghurt sweetened with pureed fruit or berries. Resist the pester power at the supermarket for flavoured milk and offer to make them a milkshake using a banana as a sweetener. In the warmer months, replace store bought with homemade icecream or sorbet and reduce the sugar content.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you are offering your child a healthy snack with muesli bars. Most brands are high in sugar and have little fibre. Make your bars or a slice using less sugar and more nutritious ingredients. Other quick and easy after school treats include pikelets, pancakes, muffins, fruit salad, vegetable sticks for dipping, banana bread and smoothies.
Get Kids Involved in Cooking
Young children love helping out in the kitchen so get them involved whenever you can. Giving them age appropriate tasks and explain what you are doing step by step so they learn how to cook and prepare food. Older children can be set tasks such as making lunchbox snacks on the weekend so you aren’t tempted by the packaged snack food at the supermarket.
With some effort in shopping, reading labels, preparing and offering more healthy whole foods, your child can become less reliant on a high sugar diet and you will be setting them up for a healthier adulthood.
If you are looking for more inspiration for offering healthy lunchbox options, check out HIF’s free lunchbox guide written by leading nutritionist and HIF blogger Susie Burrell.