How much sugar does a child actually need in a day?

Minimising your child's sugar intake is easier said than done.
Minimising your child's sugar intake is easier said than done. Photo: Getty images

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Obesity in Australia is one of the biggest health concerns and, sadly, increasing numbers of children are suffering.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, at least one in four Australian children between the ages of 2-17 are overweight or obese, increasing the risk of developing chronic disease later in life.

Paediatric dietitian and mum of 2 ½ year old twins, Susie Burrell, says one of the factors driving this epidemic is the introduction of sugar early in life. Burrell says, "A recent study showed that minimising the intake of added sugars may help to reduce the burden of overweight and obesity in children."

But, minimising your child's sugar intake is easier said than done. There are over 60 different names for sugars, making it easy for manufacturers to hide it on their food labelling.

Some of the most commonly used names for sugar include sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, as well as barley malt, dextrose, maltose and rice syrup.

"When it comes to children's diets it's actually quite challenging to keep their daily sugar intake low, simply because so many of the popular children's foods contain added sugars," says Burrell.

Burrell notes that over the past 5-10 years, food manufacturers have been working to significantly reduce the sugar content of popular children's foods including muesli bars, breakfast cereals and snack foods.

But, while this is a step in the right direction, there is still plenty of fruit snacks, drinks, flavoured yoghurts and biscuits that are packed full of added sugars.

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"Sugar is naturally occurring in a number of foods," says Burrell. "Fruits contain the natural sugar fructose, while dairy contains the natural sugar lactose."

Burrell notes that small amounts of natural sugars consumed daily as part of a healthy diet poses no health issues. The issue comes in modern diets.

"We're very good at concentrating these sugars," she says.

"We turn fresh fruit into juice with 2-3 times the amount of sugars you'd get from a piece of fruit, or we consume milk in a smoothie that also has honey and fruit added, providing additional sugars without us realising it."

It is these concentrated sources of sugar, as well as the huge amounts of added sugars found in many processed foods, that tips our children's intake of added sugars over the edge.

High sugar foods can increase blood glucose levels over time, increase the desire we have for sweet foods and leave our teeth more vulnerable to tooth decay. For this reason, the less of these sugars we expose our children to on a daily basis, the better.

"There's no set amount of sugar we need, and less than 20-30g of added sugars per day for children is ideal," advises Burrell.

As a general rule of thumb, Burrell suggests choosing packaged foods that don't list sugar on the ingredients or look for products that contain less than 10g of sugars per 100g, or for gold standard, less than 5g per 100g.

"First, turn the pack over and look at the ingredient list," says Burrell. "Look for any added sugar; it can be disguised as sucrose, honey, glucose, glucose syrup, treacle or molasses."

"Next, check the order of ingredients. The order often indicates how much of each ingredient is in the product. Typically, it's best to avoid products that have added sugar listed in the top three ingredients."

When it comes to buying baby food products, Burrell says to look for those that state 'no added sugar' on the front of the pack.

She recommends Bellamy's Organic recently-released range of children's custards with no added sugar.

Flavours include banana custard, cherry with cacao and vanilla pear with chia seeds. Each pouch, conveniently available on the supermarket shelf, contains the equivalent of 1/3 cup of certified organic milk and are renowned for not compromising on quality and ingredients.

For toddlers and older children, some lower sugar alternatives to the most commonly eaten foods can help. For breakfast, supplement Weetbix and sugar with eggs on toast. For snacks, replace muesli bars with roasted broadbeans and swap muffins and banana bread for sushi.

For dessert reach for Greek yoghurt and berries in place of ice-cream, and always offer water over juice and flavoured milk over milkshakes and smoothies.

Just these simple changes alone can lower a child's sugar intake from 125 grams a day to 47, and that's a pretty sweet place to start.

Founded by an Australian mother, Bellamy's Organic provides certified organic Australian made formula and baby food for the precious first years. Our team of experts are dedicated and passionate about creating high quality, nutritionally balanced and delicious food. Click here to explore our great new range of certified organic food, including our new kids custards with no added sugar and our famous baby rice, now with prebiotic.

With Bellamy's Organic, you can be confident that you are giving your little ones a pure start to life.