Sugar substitutes like honey may not be as healthy as you think - try adopting these daily practices to reduce your child's sugar intake.
Who doesn’t love sweet stuff? That’s probably why health hacks about sugar seem to abound. We can’t resist sugary things, and we want to think that what we eat and give our kids is healthy.
But this can backfire when all our ‘healthier sugar’ options turn out to be just as bad for our bodies. It’s important to debunk these myths and figure out exactly what you are eating so that you can turn to more effective ways to cut down on sugar.
If you and your family have a sweet tooth, you might have turned to brown sugar as a healthier option than the white kind. Guilt-free indulgence and a healthy sugar rush for the kids, right? Not quite.
It turns out that the myth of brown sugar being better for you is just that, a myth. While it’s true that brown sugar is less refined than white, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthier choice. Brown sugar has 17 kilocalories per teaspoon, while white sugar has 16 kilocalories, according to United States of Agriculture data reported in the New York Times.
In fact, brown sugar is pretty much just normal table sugar, getting its delicious caramelised taste from 5-10% added molasses. If you adore baking for your little ones, you would probably agree that brown vs white sugar have important differences in taste. Health-wise, however, both require equal care about excessive intake.
As a sweetener, honey sounds better and more organic than refined sugar, but ‘natural’ doesn’t always translate to ‘healthier’. Because we usually consume it raw or pasteurised, honey definitely contains some antioxidants and minerals. As fitness site Fitday highlights, however, these minerals are so scarce that they contribute little towards your child’s nourishment. Furthermore, honey contains roughly the same calories as table sugar, putting both on par in terms of unhealthiness.
There’s one caveat: honey often tastes sweeter to us due to its higher level of fructose-to-glucose ratio. This might inadvertently provide encouragement to use less of it, helping you cut down your children’s sugar intake.
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If your family is health-food conscious, you might have heard of agave nectar – an amber-coloured liquid tapped from the agave plant, reputed to be more wholesome than regular sugar. Agave nectar does offer several important benefits – it’s great for those on vegan-free or gluten diets. And because it’s only made of fructose, it has a low glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) indicates the impact of a sugar on your blood glucose. The lower the GI, the more slowly the sugar is broken down in your blood, and the easier it is for your body to control your blood glucose.
But GI isn’t the only indicator of how good or bad a sugar is for your little ones. How sugar causes insulin production is another big factor. According to certified nutritionist Dr Jonny Bowden, agave nectar is packed not with typical glucose but fructose, which has been linked to the onset of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition in which cells fail to respond normally to insulin, putting you at greater risk for type 2 diabetes.
1) Cook more at home
It’s always easier to know what goes into your child’s food when you cook at home rather than eat out. Innocent-looking ingredients like sauces and garnishes, may contain unnecessary sugar, adding to your family’s overall intake. Though it may be difficult to always cook as a busy mum, you might want to do so whenever possible. Be sure to rope in your husband and kids to help!
2) Talk about food
If you are a foodie family, there’s no doubt you already gush over your favourite foods at the dinner table. In addition, how about explaining to your kids what sorts of things are going onto their plates? Though there’s no need to teach them to fear sugar, embracing the importance of a balanced sugar intake will work wonders.
In this way, your kids will understand why limiting their favourite sugary foods is important, rather than finding it a chore. At the same time, you can direct their attention positively towards healthier foods.
3) Stick to regular meal times
Most of the time, our kids’ sugar intake comes from snack times such as after-school or supper treats. These unplanned snacks are tricky because we don’t usually take them into account when monitoring our sugar consumption.
Keeping to a regular, three-meals-a-day schedule is a great way to make sure your sugar rationing is effective. Try to ensure that your meal portions are sufficient so that your children won’t get hungry in between meals and reach for the chocolate bars!
4) Avoid using sweets as rewards
It seems so natural to reward kids with their favourite cookies or ice-cream. They’ve accomplished something great, and we want to give them something special for their efforts.
But in itself, sugar gives our brains a huge rush of dopamine. According to scientific research published in the Neuroscience Behavioral Review, it’s possible to be addicted to sugar in the same way as heroin or cocaine. Combined with the thrill of reward, this reinforces the link between sweet stuff and addictive pleasure for your kids. Rather than sweets, there are tonnes of other fun ways to reward your kids, like a family hike or a new stuffed toy.
5) Train their taste buds to savour healthy food
Ultimately, you might find that the most effective way to ensure your kids eat healthily is teaching them to love healthy foods. Raisins, almonds, apples – these are all snacks we might have hated as kids but happily savour now as adults. Paradoxically, this is usually because our parents gave us the taste for them early! Our taste buds not only remember these familiar foods, they have become accustomed to them.
You can boost this process by ensuring that such healthy flavours are associated with fun memories for your kids. Inventing games or coming up with riddles about these wholesome foods can help to increase their yumminess and cultivate healthy eating habits in your kids down the road.