I do! I allow my children to eat sugar! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a Master’s degree in nutrition and a Bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology and I allow my children to eat sugar. I had an obsession with sugar. I also had an eating disorder from about age 14 – 25. I dabbled in keto, whole 30, Atkins, and general starvation. The result every time – an obsession with food and mainly added sugar. But that’s not the end of my story. And my prayer is that this is not the same story for my children.
Read on to discover why I allow my children to consume sugar.
We’ve all been there, at the birthday party, cutting a piece of cake and offering it to all of the children – except that one. The mom with the dried fruit packed away in her hand-woven, non-toxic, vegan “sash.” The mom pulls her child away and glances over at you to say, “Oh, no thank you. We don’t eat sugar in our family.”
You feel a rush of shame over your body as you reflect on how much sugar you’ve offered your children over the past weekend. Better yet, year. This post is for you, mama! Leave your shame elsewhere because you are free here!
I’d also like to say, if you are the mom who does not offer your children sugar, that’s also okay! But I’d encourage you to read this post so that you can make a well-informed decision, and perhaps consider the way you discuss your decision with other mommas around you.
1.) Table Sugar is Digested & Utilized For Energy in the Body
Yes, you read it right. Table sugar, along with all forms of carbohydrates, provides our bodies with energy. Energy is what keeps us alive! For adults and children, energy keeps our brains functioning properly, our hearts beating, our lungs breathing, our digestive systems active, our immune systems, and all other organs and systems in the body running properly.
At a molecular level, sugar is utilized for energy and it is only stored in the body as fat if it is consumed in excess.
Most added sugar-containing food products do not contain the essential micronutrients that our children need daily. Because of that, added sugar should never be encouraged to fill the nutritional needs of our children, but rather, a means of celebration, enjoyment with friends and family, and simply helping children develop a healthy relationship with food.
You can begin teaching them now how to listen to their bodies.
- “Does your tummy hurt? I’m sorry buddy, next time maybe you can try eating your lunch first to fill your tummy and help your body digest this delicious treat!”
- “We’re not going to eat cookies for dinner, because your tummy needs fat, protein, and fiber from your meal to help you feel full! Otherwise, you will be hungry all day! But how about we enjoy this cookie with our meal!”
You can also practice asking them how they feel, teaching them macronutrients, and gently pointing them towards consuming a Kids MyPlate plate.
Take a deep dive into this concept by reading this blog post by the Sugar Nutrition Resource Centre, What is the Role of Sugar in the Body.
2.) Children Who are Deprived of Sugar are More Likely to Have an Unhealthy Relationship with Sugar.
Think back to your childhood. Did you have unlimited or limited access to sweets? If you had limited access to sweets, have you ever found yourself craving sweets all the time? Most likely. The result is either practicing willpower 24-7 or binge eating.
But did you know that there’s another solution? Yes, for you too!
By eliminating the hierarchy of food – which is the idea that food is good or bad – you will allow your body’s natural, inborn cues to guide your food choices. If you deny your body of that natural cue, the likely result is an unhealthy relationship with food.
When children desire sugar that is a healthy and normal sign of growth. Our brains know that they rely on carbohydrates for energy (not fat and not protein), but carbohydrates alone. You can help channel that desire in the right direction without complete deprivation.
I recommend that parents teach their children at an early age how to eat intuitively. If you have not learned about intuitive eating yourself, I would start there!
- Here are some resources that might help you:
- 5 Steps to Develop a Healthy Relationship With Food, The Well Nourished Family
- Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach By Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch (Amazon)
- A Parent’s Guide to Intuitive Eating: How to Raise Kids Who Love to Eat Healthy By, Dr. Yami Cazorla-Lancastor (Amazon)
- Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter (Amazon)
*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases)
3.) Added Sugar Does Not Cause Hyperactivity in Children
Contrary to popular belief, added sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children. Hyperactivity in the context of ADD/ADHD is a medical disorder that has no exact cause but is most apparently linked to genetics, environmental factors, and lack of adequate nutrition in the womb and early infancy/childhood.2
Lack of adequate nutrition does not imply offering children table sugar. Lack of adequate nutrition means lacking important brain-developing nutrients such as folate, iodine, vitamins A, D, B6 & B 12, and long-chain fatty acids (omega-3 fatty acids). So in other words, ADD/ADHD (along with many other medical conditions) are more likely to be caused by not consuming enough nutrition as opposed to consuming too much of something, such as table sugar.
It’s important to note that if table sugar is offered in replacement of these essential nutrients, children are at an increased risk for malnutrition which may result in adverse health effects, such as ADD/ADHD.
However, providing children with adequate nutrition AND allowing children to consume sugar can, and I would argue should, coexists.
Lastly, the hyperactivity observed after children consume added sugar is the result of a blood sugar spike. It does not result in long-term attention deficit disorder. In addition, the environment that a child is in when offered added sugar snacks (think: candy, popsicles, cake, cookies, cupcakes) is often at a celebration with friends and family. Children are excited, overstimulated, and overtired. This may also contribute to a child’s behavior.
To combat this, I recommend offering meals consisting of carbs, fat, protein, and if possible, fiber along with added-sugar products.3
Children who are deprived of sugar are more likely to have an obsession with sugar. The most beneficial thing you can do for your child is to allow them to have sugar regularly with attunement to the body. For example, always allow your child to have birthday cake, cookies at a friend’s house, and maybe even 1 serving of added sugar (fruit snacks, cookies, bowl of ice cream) regularly. By reducing the hierarchy of foods (the idea that sugar is bad only fruits and vegetables are good) you can teach your children to see food for what it is. Sugar-containing food is tasty, it’s fun to eat with friends, and it provides your body with carbohydrates for energy. It makes you feel sick if you have too much and doesn’t replace the nutrients found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and dairy. Each food group has a purpose and we should teach our kids the science behind food and how to appreciate each food group for what it offers.
3. Pub Med
Written by Sheridan Glaske, MS, RDN, LD