Sugar and your child

Posted on 23 December 2019

As a parent, you already know excess sugar is bad for your kid’s teeth. But did you know it can cause inflammation and other conditions too?

“If the basis of your child’s diet is lots of refined and processed foods, they have an increased risk of developing lifestyle diseases,” says Jeske Wellmann, a dietician at Mediclinic Sandton. “This is because they are not getting all the correct nutrients in the correct proportions and are not in the habit of making healthier choices.”

It is not just increased intake of added sugar that ups the risk of lifestyle diseases such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Increased fat intake, especially trans-fatty acids and the lack of fresh vegetables, fruit and unrefined carbohydrates also contributes to your child’s risk.

And if your child lives with diabetes, controlling and managing blood glucose entails much more than simply cutting down on sugar, Wellmann adds. “Children with Type 1 diabetes should make healthy food choices, just as we all should,” she says. “Food intake depends on your child’s age, activity, sex and health. All carbohydrate-containing foods will influence blood glucose levels, not just added sugar,” she explains. “Each meal should consist of lots of vegetables with controlled unrefined carbohydrates, protein and fat.”

Ilsabé Spoelstra, a dietician at Mediclinic Bloemfontein, doesn’t believe in treating kids with diabetes any differently from those who don’t live with the condition. “Every child should eat  healthily,” she says. “If anything, as the parent of a diabetic child, you can influence your friends to change their children’s diets!” Spoelstra says that children with Type 1 should avoid trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated fatty acids. “That’s the really bad stuff,” she says. “Trans fats are found in processed foods, like biscuits, rusks, pies and pastries, so you have to read the labels when you buy your groceries. Sugar is not good for diabetics, but too much sugar is not really good for anyone,” Spoelstra says.

As Wellmann explains, a controlled amount of added sugar is part of a healthy diet, but it can add up so quickly that your child might be overconsuming sugar even if you think they are eating healthily. For instance, the average high-fibre breakfast cereal contains at least 1½ teaspoons of added sugar per portion, she says. “A small tub of flavoured yoghurt contains at least one teaspoon of added sugar. Eating this together already means your child is consuming 2½ teaspoons of added sugar.” Wellmann adds that the guideline for sugar consumption is supposed to be five to 10% of your child’s total calorie intake. “That means that although an 18-year-old can consume six teaspoons of added sugar, your two-year-old can’t,” she says.

The difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes [infographic]


Tips for reducing your child’s sugar intake

  • Use sugar-free applesauce in baking instead of sugar.
  • Sweeten dishes with fresh fruit instead of syrup.
  • Freeze plain Greek yoghurt as a substitute for ice cream.
  • Replace sodas and fruit juice with water.



In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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