Most parents would be shocked to learn that almost half of all Australian children aged six have tooth decay. Preventable dental conditions are the third-leading cause of hospitalisation for children in Australia and high sugar diets also contribute to current record levels of childhood obesity.
There is now an increased recognition of the benefits of reducing sugar in adults and children’s diet, and it is time to also increase awareness of the damage that sugar in babies and toddlers diet can cause to their dental and general health.
Parents are overwhelmingly well-intentioned and hope to make the right choices to support the health and development of their children. Parents make so many choices affecting all aspects of their children’s lives, and most prioritise increasing fruits and vegetable, and reducing sugar intake. It can, however, be particularly hard to make informed choices relating to sugar consumption because there are so many different names for sugars.
Here’s a short list of some sugars commonly found in foods and drinks:
- Any ingredient ending with the word sugar such as brown sugar, cane sugar, raw sugar
- High fructose corn syrup
- Corn syrup solids
- Barley malt
You also need to look for the technical names for sugars, which include:
- lactose (naturally occurring in dairy products and the least damaging sugar for teeth)
There are also ‘natural sugars’ such as maple syrup, honey, rice malt and fruit juice concentrates. It doesn’t end there. Some simple carbohydrates such as maltodextrin are technically a complex carbohydrate but perform as sugars, causing a sugar spike and directly contributing to tooth decay.
Maltodextrin has a glycemic index of 130 (table sugar is only 65). A high glycemic index means that it goes through the digestive system and into the bloodstream very quickly. It is also a very cheap ingredient which is added to many manufactured food products.
Sugar is not always called sugar, in fact there are at least 60 different names used for sugar and commonly used sweeteners. The term hidden sugars refers to all added sugars and some simple carbohydrates. The many and varied names of sugars make it very difficult for regular consumers to look for and avoid ‘hidden sugars’, as you can’t find what you are not looking for. The only winner is the sugar industry.
Sugars cause tooth decay, and excessive sugar intake is also linked to obesity, insulin resistance, weakened immune response, and fatty liver disease. Eating foods with added sugar can also fill kids up and lead to reduced intake of healthy foods containing the vitamins, minerals and protein that they really need. The baby and toddler years are also very important as they shape your child’s flavour palate, which can lead to lifelong preferences for either healthy or unhealthy high sugar foods.
Tips to avoid hidden sugars in your toddler’s diet:
- Soft drink has no place in a toddler’s diet and fruit juice should be limited. Toddlers should drink water or milk.
- Minimise lollies, biscuits, cakes, desserts and treats with high sugar content. Children rapidly get used to sweet treats and can expect them daily. Try natural popcorn, fruit plates, fruit yoghurt with no added sugar or baked potato chips, pretzels and brown rice crackers as treats instead. Save the sugary treats for special occasions or weekend treats.
- Limit the amount of processed food served for meals and snacks as even savoury products can contain high levels of added sugar, particularly in sauces.
- Avoid sugary cereals or spreads on toast for breakfast. Try porridge with minimal sugar and added berries, wholegrain toast with whole-fruit- no-added- sugar jam or eggs on toast for breakfast. Let the kids break the eggs and help cook to get them on board.
- Only purchase tinned fruit in juice, not syrup.
- Watch those muesli bars and snacks marketed for kid’s lunchboxes and treats, as they are often very high in sugars. Do a detailed product comparison once and choose a brand with the least amount of sugar.
- Get familiar with the names of added sugars and simple carbohydrates and read nutrition and ingredient labels. The best way to start is to plan a trip to the supermarket alone for a blitz to check all your regular purchases. Pick up each product and read the label, looking specifically for sugar content and hidden sugars. Read the ingredients list – ingredients are listed in order from most to least, the first few ingredients you read are the ones which are the most prevalent in the product. Take the time to consider each regular purchase and if you don’t like what you see, compare brands and try to replace this item with a lower sugar version or with another better option. If you do this once for all your regular purchases, you shouldn’t need to repeat it, just look at the sugar content of any new products you are considering carefully.
- Cook with real food. Avoid processed and packaged foods, including prepared meals with sauces or marinates which often high in sugar. There are loads of healthy, quick recipes online which are just as easy to make and more satisfying that prepared, frozen or take-away food, and the bonus is you will be modelling healthy cooking and eating behaviours, which our kids will copy. Try a simple omelette with tuna and a little bag of steamed frozen vegies on the side for a balanced, quick and cheap meal.
- Check packaged baby and toddler food for sugar content information as some popular brands which present as healthy choices contain up to 60% sugar (mainly derived from fruit juice concentrates which are excessively high in sugar).
- Check the sugar ingredients of infant and toddler formula. Aim to avoid maltodextrin and corn syrup solids, which are unnecessary added sugars.
Healthy, cheap, easy snacks for kids include; popcorn, brown rice crackers/cakes, pretzels, fresh fruit salad, vegetable sticks, boiled egg wedges, ham and cheeses, baked chips, cooked wholegrain or vegetable pasta.
Parents often don’t consider checking the ingredients of toddler or infant formula. It is important to carefully consider your choice as some brands contain maltodextrin and glucose syrups which are associated with high levels of dental caries. Lactose is a naturally occurring milk sugar which is the sugar least likely to contribute to tooth decay, and is the preferred option for formula.
As parents we all have a lot on our plate, but it is very important that we are aware of hidden sugars and make informed choices about what our babies, toddlers and young children are consuming to best support their healthy growth and development and to avoid the negative health effects of excessive sugar intake.
ABOUT THE EXPERT
Nutrico is a new premium Australian made and owned infant formula, made with milk from the clean, green pastures of Victoria.