Reducing sugar intake (the pre-schooler edition)

Have you heard this week’s news story about SACN’s recommendations regarding our consumption of sugar? SACN – the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition – have recommended that we all consume more fibre and less free sugars. Specifically, they’ve said:

For the population to lower the consumption of free sugars to around 5% of daily dietary energy intake which is 25g for women (5 – 6 teaspoons) and 35g (7 – 8 teaspoons) for men based on average population diets. The consumption of sugars-sweetened beverages (e.g. fizzy drinks, squash) should be minimised by both children and adults.

If you fancy reading the press release rather than the media’s interpretation of it – it’s here SACN draft report on Carbohydrates and Health for public consultation.

My sister made the decision some time ago to vastly limit the amount of free sugars my little nephew eats and drinks. So, I thought it would be interesting to ask her more about the decision, the practicalities of it, and what it’s like to live a low-sugar lifestyle with a toddler in the house.

(Check out my other nephew-related posts: The Nephew Workout when he was a baby (we’ve both grown since then LOL!) and The Nephew Workout revisited when he came to stay with me when I was just a few days out from a bodybuilding comp!)

On with the interview!
The Fit Writer: Why did you decide to minimise sugar in Henry’s diet? Was there one event, a trigger, or something you’d read/heard?

The Fit Sister: We initially took Henry to have food intolerance tests as he spent the first two years of life with a runny nose and cough. After putting it down to being in childcare from an early age (and him “being a boy”), we decided to look into it further. I mentioned his other unusual behaviours to the herbalist: Henry always seemed angrier than most toddlers, with more energy, had tendencies to push and hit out at other people, and throw and kick his toys. These are usual traits of toddlers, especially boys, but they seemed more pronounced in him (in comparison to his peers). It was at this point that we realised he was intolerant to sugars (as well as lactose and cheese).

TFW: How easy (or not) has it been? How did life have to change in terms of cooking, shopping, sourcing food, recipes, life outside the home?

TFS: It was a lot easier to begin with when Henry didn’t really realise what was happening. We always cook from fresh, so main meals were easy. He had always had cinnamon on porridge for breakfast but instead of following it with a children’s yoghurt, we switched to goats milk yoghurt sweetened with a cinnamon. Shopping was time consuming to begin with. I was genuinely unaware how much sugar is in things like bread, his beloved wraps, cereals and even some crisps! However it only took a few weeks to realise what I could and couldn’t buy. I found that by not having it in the house, it was easier for us all. It’s more difficult when we’re out (the main culprit being ketchup). At first I could just tell him the restaurant had run out, but now he’s nearly four he knows full well I’m fibbing. I believe in everything in moderation, and tell myself that I’m doing better than most when we’re at home and therefore the odd “treat” of a small dollop of ketchup in a restaurant isn’t all bad. (I make my own!)

TFW: What have been the biggest challenges been? Henry himself, or other people?

TFS: The biggest challenge at the moment is kids parties! But I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t let him be that kid in the corner who can only snack on natural popcorn. Actually, when he does get a free rein, he often leaves a piece of chocolate cake half-eaten. I suppose it’s just too sweet. I found the grandparents’ attitudes towards it the worst to begin with; I think it’s just their generation. However, even they have noticed a difference in his behaviour, and now they stick to his diet more and more each time they see him. I suppose they have realised what a different boy he is if they are stricter with it. In the beginning I had comments like “well, what can I give him to drink that’s a nice, poor thing, I feel terrible!” Erm… water is nice!

TFW: Has minimising sugar helped Henry? In what way?

TFS: I can’t tell you how much it’s helped. We literally noticed a difference from day one. The funny thing is how much it educated me! Henry and I used to start our day with a homemade smoothie of banana, frozen berries, spinach and flax seed. I thought I was being the best Mum in the world! But actually, I now realise that this wass one of the worst starts I could give him. I wondered why he was bouncing off the walls all morning. The biggest difference I notice is when he does have something sugary (his main triggers are squash, ketchup, beans, and chocolate icecream). I know when to make my excuses, get him away from wherever we are, and back to an environment where he can tear around!

TFW: Exactly what do you mean by minimising sugar? What do you see as sugar, and do you have any goals in terms of intake, or is it just to reduce it?

TFS: My aim is to reduce it as much as I can, in all forms… when it is within my control. I do allow Henry to have natural sugars in small quantities, but never pureed or in a juice form. I will make substitutes for refined sugars by using natural sugars such as bananas in cakes, cinnamon, agave and sometimes honey. My rationale is that, if I can “control” his sugar intake 80% of the time at home, then it doesn’t matter as much when he is around the bad stuff.

TFW: What has surprised you about this whole venture? Has it been easier or more difficult than you thought?

TFS: It’s got to be not realising how much sugar there was in things. I’m an educated person, but even I was unaware of where it was snuck in. I now choose full-fat rather than the “healthy choice” option (which tends to be padded out with sugar). Smoothies were an eye-opener. The fact that the sugar in smoothies is absorbed in a different way than eating the whole fruit. It’s been easier than I thought, as Henry was young when we started. But, even now he’s older and starting to ask for things, I can just tell him “no, that’s full of sugar, have this instead” and he’s fine. He’s even started to tell people himself that he doesn’t want it.

TFW: What are your top tips for other parents who want to minimise their children’s sugar intake?

TFS: Cinnamon to sweeten porridge and yoghurt has been great, especially as he likes to sprinkle it on and make patterns. I’ve gone back to a lot of the “baby” brands for biscuits etc: although they are sweetened with grape juice, that’s a lot better than refined sugar. The internet has hundreds of blogs, recipes, hints and tips from other parents that have gone sugar free, so it’s a lot easier than it would have been years ago. My top tip would be: cut sugar out yourself for a few weeks, and see the difference it makes to you. As a sugar addict, this has been my biggest learning curve. Monkey see, monkey do! If you don’t eat it, they won’t ask for it.

I’ll leave you with a pic of my nephew lying on my floor having a picnic of nuts, blueberries and oat cakes (if memory serves me correctly)

Reducing sugar intake (the pre-schooler edition) is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


2 Responses to Reducing sugar intake (the pre-schooler edition)

  1. Robin says:

    Really true, this can be done so easily. More parents should know that, if you don’t use foods as rewards, kids won’t ask for the sweet stuff all the time! I too have a son, and he has fidgety tendencies and has a tough time paying attention in school. I keep sugar to a minimum at home–but didn’t realize how much was in his school lunch. When I finally started making his own lunch, he was much, much better…and now reads those labels himself to make sure there isn’t too much in there. I think it’s all a matter of parents teaching the children, and they will learn there’s a time and a place for sugar….nice post and great interview!


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