Food has changed so much since the ’70s and ’80s; sugar content has increased dramatically as we’ve all become addicted to it. There’s no doubt that it affects the behaviour and concentration of our children. If you’ve ever tried to go a week without sugar yourself; you’ll know that it can have some real withdrawal symptoms, too. Sugar comes in many different forms and names; it’s a sneaky little devil. Let’s have a look at some of the ways it’s disguised, as well as where you may find hidden sugar in your food.
Of course, you won’t want to be substituting sugar with artificial sweeteners, either, as those can cause more trouble that sugar itself. The best way is to prevent our children from becoming sweet addicts in the first place. Keep in mind that many good foods such as fruit, veggies, and milk, for example, have naturally occurring sugars. The thing you really need to look out for are added sugars that are put into foods to add sweetness, bulk, or to take the place of fat or other ingredients that have been taken out. These corporations are adding sugar to our foods in increasing amounts to keep us addicted to their items! Like any addiction, you become tolerant and then they must add even more. Let’s be aware and break the cycle for our children, and ourselves.
Sugar by other names
Sugar is not always sugar. There are over 60 ways of describing sugar on ingredient labels, and the names of them are constantly changing, just to keep us on our toes and oblivious to how much we are really consuming. If you know the different names that sugar is called, you will soon discover that it can be listed on the ingredient label several times using several different terms. When you consider that ingredients are listed in order of their weight, starting with the biggest ingredient; you could be shocked at how much sugar is in that favourite drink or snack that you enjoy.
Sugar’s many code names include: rice syrup, dextrose, maltose and barley malt, and high-fructose corn syrup.
Corporations are sneaky! They may claim to have ‘no added sugar’ or to use only ‘natural sweeteners,’ such as agave, honey, and maple syrup, they’re still sources of hidden sugar that often don’t even need to be added for additional sweetness. Companies are now even adding fruit juice to products; not for flavour, but for sweetness (some juice has more sugar than colas). They may be less refined than ‘sugar’ but do they really need to be there? Or are the companies just playing to the population’s sugar addiction?
Serving Size & Shrinkflation
If you’re here in the UK, you’ll have noticed that the size of chocolate bars and other sweets packages are getting smaller. You wouldn’t be wrong for thinking it was simply ‘shrinkflation,’ but it’s more that just that. One of the ways companies are skirting new policies on sugar content is not to reduce sugar content in the recipes, but rather to simply make the serving size smaller. So be sure to check the sugar content per 100 grams rather than just the amount per serving so that you have an accurate way to measure it. But also, keep the serving size in mind when consuming the product so that you don’t inadvertently eat 3 serving sizes without realising it. Cereal is a great example of this as the majority of children and adults eat 2-3 times more than the listed serving size!
Foods in Disguise
Be sure to always read the label, and better yet, eat foods that don’t come with labels, such as whole fruit and veggies that also contain the natural fibre that bodies need, too. Back to those labels, watch out for hidden sugars and pay particular attention to granola bars, breakfast cereals, yogurt, fruit snacks, and juice. Juice can be a bit trickier because fruit will have sugar that is naturally occurring, but as juice is processed and the fibre is extracted, it loses its goodness and becomes almost the equivalent of flavoured sugar water (and never drink ‘fruit juice drinks – there isn’t even enough juice in them to be considered proper juice). Here in the UK, the government is considering taking fruit juice off the food guide altogether as there can be as much sugar in a glass of orange juice as there is in a can of Coca-Cola.
Hidden Sugar on the Label
Raise your hand if you find reading food labels difficult! There currently isn’t a set industry standard, and the ones that are there are voluntary. Remember that children should not be consuming more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day, which is 25 grams. Also keep in mind that there can be both natural sugar, as well as added sugar in products, and it’s the added sugars that we must be ever-vigilant about. Children under the age of 2 should not consume any added sugar at all! Remember that the next time someone wants to be ‘kind’ and feed your child ice cream or candy; it’s much kinder for their bodies now, and in the future, not to get kids used to these foods.
As difficult as it is to traverse through this minefield, remember that whole, natural foods are best for meals and snacks (and that goes for us adults, too). Making your own meals at home from scratch is great because you know exactly what is going into it. It sounds like a lot of work, but once you get into it, it really isn’t (have you tried making freezer meals yet?).
You really can’t afford not to think about the added sugar that’s going into your family’s meals as it is linked to a higher risk of developing diseases in adulthood, such as heart disease. It’s also linked to obesity and elevated blood pressure in both children and adults. So learn and make yourself (and your children) wise to the dangers of added sugar, and where to find them.