Sugar and my child

Everyone needs energy to live, grow and thrive. Often the major source energy in their diet comes from carbohydrates, which includes sugars and starches.

What is sugar?

Fructose and glucose are the two of the simplest types of sugars in our food.

As the building blocks of other more complex carbohydrates, fructose and glucose are bound together in nature to create other sugars such as lactose and galactose (found in milk), sucrose (table sugar) and maltose (found in malt).

As more and more building blocks get joined together the more complex the carbohydrate become, eventuating in the formation of starches which are found in foods such as root vegetables (e.g. potatoes, kumara, carrots, beetroot) and grains.

Not all sugars are the same, so it’s important to know what to look for when trying to avoid the intake of excessive added sugars.

Why the fuss about sugar?

The World Health Organisation announced in 2015 that intake of free sugars* should be less than 10% of totally energy intake, and ideally less than 5% for additional health benefits. This is based on reducing the impact of dental caries and also lifestyle related diseases.  Lifestyle diseases are specifically those resulting from obesity which results from energy imbalance.  Sugar, being a major source of energy in our diet, has therefore become a hot topic.  Recent research with NZ parents showed that three out of four parents were concerned about sugar for their children (Bauer research).

What does that mean for our children? Some things to bear in mind:

Newborns have a natural preference for sweetness, so that they are attracted to the taste of breast milk (lactose) – the only food a baby needs for the first six months of life.

From six months is the time recommended to introduce new foods.  This is when your child will learn about other tastes and textures.

Toddlers and young children are generally able to moderate their own energy intakes by consuming the amount of energy they need, as long as they are provided with a healthy balanced diet.

When children are offered energy dense foods, such as those high in sugars, this natural mechanism can be overridden which in turn can lead to an energy imbalance, particularly when children are less active.

Too much sugar in a toddler’s diet may also mean they establish a preference for sweeter food throughout their life.

While gram for gram, sugar is lower in energy than fat, high-sugar foods (or foods with added sugar such as cakes and biscuits) tend to deliver more energy per serve than foods with naturally occurring sugars, like milk and fruit.

It’s recommended that from one year of age onwards children consume 2 cups of milk per day and 2 serves of fruit per day (a serve of fruit for a child is equivalent to what fits in their own hand).  These two important foods provide plenty of natural sweetness along with other important nutrients.

If you are considering a toddler milk, make sure you look for one with no added sugars. As an alternative to plain milk, a toddler milk offers the benefit of added vitamins and minerals.  Like milk, the only sugar it contains should be lactose.

There are three simple ways to avoid giving your toddler’s excess sugar?

1.    Offer a range of different types of food each day including: dairy, fruit and vegetables, breads, pasta, rice and cereals and protein-based foods such as eggs & meats.  Then your child has the opportunity to naturally balance their metabolism, as well as developing a taste for these healthy foods and a varied diet.

2.    Avoid added sugars by looking for products with no added sugar. You may need to become a sugar detective by knowing what to look for on labels to identify added sugars. Glucose, sucrose, syrups, honey and molasses are all types of added sugar.  Avoid drinks with added sugar. After Breast milk, water is the best way to keep toddlers thirst quenched.

3.    Teach your toddler to enjoy some sweet foods in moderation by offering healthy snacks most of the time with sweet treats only occasionally.


* Free sugars’ comprises all sugars added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices. Under this definition lactose (the sugar in milk) when naturally present in milk and milk products and the sugars contained within the cellular structure of foods (particularly fruits and vegetables) are excluded.

Consumer Research 75% of New Zealand parents are concerned about sugar*

–       69% of Dads

–       78% of Mums

*Sugar rated above screentime, bad beahviour, too much sun, artificial colourings, high fats, salt, origin of food and NZ produced



Written by Cherry Barker, Paediatric Nutritionist, in support of Anmum and  Kidspot. References include European Food Information Council.

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