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.


  1. kymmage 31/03/2019 at 11:08 pm

    I’ve never been too worried about sugar with my kids because they are both so active. I think if I stopped adding chocolate here and there they would fade away. But this year has caused me to stop and think a bit about what goes into my own lunches and dinners etc. And that can’t help but affect how I choose to do lunchboxes and snacks for them too.

  2. SarahBlair 31/03/2019 at 11:05 pm

    My kids love sugary treats but they are treated as such, treats, they aren’t given them often. They eat fruit and their cereal contains a little sugar but that is about it, unless we give them a treat like a lollipop, which happens about once a fortnight

  3. dawnblyth 31/03/2019 at 10:40 pm

    Having plenty of options is key from what I’ve found. We have fresh fruit, sandwiches and lots of other things too. Sometimes I find boredom can be a sign that is misplaced for hunger.

  4. felicity beets 31/03/2019 at 6:01 pm

    It is surprising how sugary some of the baby foods and toddler foods are – so you do not just need to be aware of things like junk food or obvious sugary food like chocolate and lollies.

  5. Alezandra 29/03/2019 at 10:05 pm

    When it comes to food, we definitely have to be mindful. More and more products out there are just sugar laden, even things that you think doesn’t have sugar. Not everything sweet is necessarily bad. Moderation is key and finding the right balance.

  6. Bevik1971 28/03/2019 at 9:52 am

    We don’t give our 6 year old too much sugar, she gets a bit from the fruit she eats but I don’t like giving her too much refined sugar as she just doesn’t need it. She only had her first ice cream at age 4 and her first lollipop at about age 5 haha

  7. MuddledUpMolly 26/03/2019 at 11:49 am

    Our kids understandably love sugar but I have always been very mindful of it and ensuring they do not consume too much. Sugar is definitely seen as a treat in our home and we want to raise the kids to know that it’s ok to have a treat, but everything needs to be in moderation for the sake of their health and wellbeing.

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