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The average person in the United States consumes more than 125-pounds of refined sugar per year or 46-teaspoons per day. Sugar has no nutritional value and is also devoid of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

The Effects of Refined Sugar in the Diet of Children

The average person in the United States consumes more than 125-pounds of refined sugar per year, which computes to an average of 46-teaspoons per day.  Sugar has no nutritional value and is also devoid of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

Excessive sugar in the diet of children is not only dangerous but can lead to a wide variety of health issues as well, which is why dietary intake of refined sugar must be monitored and strictly limited.

What is Refined Sugar?

Sugar is an edible, crystalline substance, composed mainly of fructose (a simple sugar found in honey and ripe fruits), lactose (found in milk), maltose (grain sugars) and sucrose (found in plants).  Sugar, a carbohydrate, is found in riped fruits, honey, sugar cane, sugar beets, sugar maple (maple syrup), sorghum (species of grass) and many other sources.

Foods that Contain Refined Sugar

Refined sugar was at one time considered a luxury, but as it became cheaper to produce, it has become common in the diets of many people.  There are certain foods that are high in refined sugars and should be avoided or strictly limited in the diet of a child:

  • Soft Drinks
  • Snack Cakes
  • Candy (any type)
  • Fruit juice
  • Sports drinks
  • Pre-sweetened drink mixes
  • “White” carbohydrates (white bread, potatoes, white pasta, etc.)
  • Condiments (ketchup, mayonnaise, sweet relish, etc.)
  • Fruit flavored yogurt
  • Corn sweeteners and  foods flavored with corn syrup
  • Canned fruits and vegetables
  • Sweet potatoes (are high in sugar and should be consumed in moderation)
  • Bananas (high in sugar and should be avoided by those with blood sugar problems)
  • Certain baby foods have high levels of refined sugar 
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Ice cream
  • Pancake syrup
  • Pre-made baked goods
  • Jams and jellies
  • Cookies
  • Pastries
  • Honey (considered by nutritionists to be harmful to long term health)
  • Prepackaged and processed foods

The above table, contains a general list of foods that commonly contain high levels of refined sugar.  For parents concerned with refined sugar consumption in a child's diet, checking labels is imperative because some foods may contain hidden sources of refined sugar. 

Parents trying to limit sugar intake should also be aware of certain ingredients in foods that may mask the presence of refined sugar, such as:

  • Amasake (Japanese drink made from sweet brown rice, long grain brown rice, sea salt and water)
  • Barley malt
  • Barley malt syrup
  • Corn sweetener, corn syrup
  • Dextrine, dextrose
  • Malted barley
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Galactose
  • Nectars
  • Sorbitol
  • Rice malt, rice sugar
  • Raisin juice, raisin sugar 
  • Rice sweeteners, rice syrups
  • Xylitol
  • Zylose

These are just a few of the many different forms of refined sugar that can be present in foods and may go unnoticed by parents.

Effects of Refined Sugar in the Diet

Refined sugar in the diet of a child can have many damaging effects on both health and quality of life. The following is a list of health conditions that can occur from the presence of refined sugar in the diet of children:

  • Suppression of immune system  (which makes it difficult for the body to fend off infections and illnesses)
  • Interfere with the ability to absorb calcium and magnesium
  • Rapid rises in adrenaline levels, anxiety, concentration difficulties and mood swings
  • Increased rise in cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Can increase fasting levels of glucose, which can result in hypoglycemia
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Tooth decay and periodontal disease
  • Uncontrolled growth of Candida Albicans (yeast infections)
  • Interference with protein absorption
  • Can impair homeostasis in the body
  • Pancreatic damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Headaches
  • Depression 
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Decrease in activity and  mental confusion in children 
  • Increase of fat storage in the body
  • High blood pressure

Does Refined Sugar Cause Hyperactivity in Children?

There is much controversy surrounding the myth that a diet high in refined sugars can be a contributing cause of hyperactivity in children.  Many people believe that children on a diet free of refined sugars, artificial colorings and additives will not exhibit hyperactive behavior.  While the issues surrounding this type of diet have long been controversial, there is no definitive link that shows food additives and refined sugar leads to hyperactivity.

There are two theories upon which the relationship of sugar and hyperactivity are based.  One is that hyperactive behavior is caused by the body having an allergic response to the consumption of refined sugars.  The second idea is based upon the premise that children who consume refined sugars experience functional reactive hypoglycemia, much the same way an adult would.

Over a period of 12-years, there were 23 case studies performed in relation to refined sugar and hyperactive behavior in children.  Upon conclusion of the studies, there was found to be no definitive evidence that suggests sugar significantly alters the behavior or cognitive development in children and leads to hyperactivity.

Refined Sugar and Academic Performance

A nutritional study entitled, “The Impact of a Diet Low in Food Additives and Sugar on the Academic Performance in 803 New York Public Schools,” was published in International Journal for Biosocial and Medical Research.  Conducted over a 4-year period, the study concluded that children with a diet lower in sugar and artificial additives resulted in a 15.7% increase in the academic percentile rating.

In 2003, research was conducted in Canadian schools with 2,500, fifth grade students, as part of a Children's Lifestyle and School-Performance Study.  Information included in the study was dietary intake, gender, height, weight and socioeconomic factors.  Upon conclusion of the study, researchers found a direct link between quality of diet in relation to academic performance. 

These scientific studies have shown direct correlation between the dietary habits of children and its affects academic performance.  Research has shown children need to have a proper balanced diet for basic development and optimal overall health.

Tips To Reduce the Consumption of Refined Sugar

To effectively eliminate refined sugars from the diet of a child, parents must educate themselves.  The restriction or limitation of refined sugars in the diet has shown through research to be beneficial to all areas of a child's life.  Though it is not necessary to completely remove refined sugar from the diet, it is recommended for the many healthful benefits it provides.

Knowing how to offer alternatives to refined sugar is the first step in creating a healthy diet plan for children.  Listed below are some tips for how to incorporate a more balanced diet:

  • Use only whole grain breads and pasta
  • Do not purchase foods high in refined sugar
  • Offer refined sugar in limited amounts
  • Carefully check the labels of canned, prepared and prepackaged foods
  • Hone your child's palate and offer a wide selection of fruits and vegetables as an alternative 
  • Cook with less sugar and find naturally sweetened alternatives to sugar (such as applesauce in cake, pie and cookie recipes)
  • Do not purchase pre-sweetened foods
  • Use dried or frozen fruits and vegetable, as opposed to canned

Removing refined sugar from the diet, is no easy task, but with due diligence a parent can limit the amounts of refine sugars their child consumes.  With careful attention to diet, increasing exercise and limiting sugar consumption, a child can greatly reduce the likelihood of certain health conditions that may develop later in life.