Helping kids eat healthy: Just ban sugar

Last updated 09:30 13/02/2013
Fizzy drinks
SUGAR HIGH: Banning fizzy drinks is a good start to cutting back your sugar intake.

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Evidence is mounting that sugar, not fat, is the culprit for the epidemic of obesity, along with diabetes and other related diseases occurring in young children around the world.

In our house the kids get to drink water, milk or, now that they are older, a little weak tea (the non-caffeine ones like rooibus).

We don't have fruit juice or fizzy in the house unless it's a birthday or Christmas.

There is a direct link cited in recent literature between the growth in consumption of fizzy drink in America, and obesity rates, especially in children.

Alarmingly this growth in consumption has also coincided with a huge increase in Type II diabetes in children and young people.

Here are three scary things about sugar that you may not know:

1. Human beings aren't designed to have sugar in any great quantity. Fifty per cent of table sugar (known as sucrose) is fructose, a type of sugar the body hasn't evolved to recognise, as our early ancestors ate so little of it.

2. Eating sugar sets off chemical reactions in your body, including the release of dopamine, otherwise known as the 'feel good' chemical.

3. Sugar requires a whole lot of precious vitamins and minerals to be metabolised: in short, eating too much of it robs your body of nutrients.

Our kids understand that fizzy drink is for parties only.

Also, we avoid processed foods as much as possible.

It only takes a few minutes more to prepare food from fresh, plus it's cheaper and heaps healthier.

I say this because most processed foods have added sugar, even when you might not realise it.

All those sauces for pastas and curries, pre-prepared meals and cans often have staggering amounts of sugar.

If anything has more than 5g of sugar per 100g on the label (that's equivalent to a teaspoon of sugar) I try to avoid it. Look at the label under 'carbohydrate content' and there's usually a line that says 'sucrose' - that's the one to read.

Don't buy cereals marketed to children, the sugar loading in them is nigh on criminal. We stick to plain Weetbix and rolled oats for our breakfast cereals.

We don't have packaged biscuits in our house either, and the kids only get muesli bars when we are tramping or doing other serious outdoor exercise.

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When I'm baking I'll also cut sugar amounts in half.

The best things to stick to for every day snacks are veggies such as cut up carrot, celery or  cucumber with a protein dip. Try mashing up frozen peas with a little mint and oil or making your own hummus cheaply from a tin of chick peas. Fruit, nuts and seeds, if you can afford them, and a little cheese, are also great.

If all else fails, the heaviest, darkest whole grain bread, and best quality peanut butter you can afford (look for the label that says no added sugar, and no added salt) are far better choices than sweet spreads like nutella, jam or honey.

Use this ratio: Five to eight servings of veggies a day; two to three servings of fruit (raw, not dried or canned) and three quarters of the dinner plate should be veggies; the final quarter a protein and good quality carbohydrate (potatoes, brown rice, beans, wholemeal pasta).

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