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The sugar lowdown

February 4, 2014

It’s not for nothing that sugar is being labelled the new tobacco in health circles. The statistics in relation to childhood obesity in Ireland are frightening. One-in-five Irish children (aged 5 years) are considered overweight or obese. While there are many causes, including more inactive lifestyles today, consuming too many calories in sweet treats and drinks is causing huge problems. With so many young children falling into an unhealthy weight category– we need to get to grips with their diet and in particular their sugar intake. This article focusses on what you can do in your service to reduce the amount of sugar children are eating. There are also some handy tips that you can pass onto parents.

Some of the science behind sugar

We are all biologically programmed to like sweet things. When we eat something sugary, it stimulates the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in our brain which makes us feel pleasure. The brain recognises and likes this feeling and begins to crave more.

This pleasurable moment doesn’t last long (that’s why it’s called a ‘sugar rush’) and is quickly followed by a ‘sugar crash’, which leaves us feeling tired and craving more of it. Don’t worry, we have all been there! However, the more sugar you consume, the higher your tolerance becomes, so, you need more to get the same effect – it’s a vicious cycle. This is where it all becomes problematic.

So why is this not good for us? When you take in too much sugar, you store the excess amount in your liver in the form of triglycerides, a type of fat that can cling to artery walls as it travels through the bloodstream. High levels of triglycerides contribute to a disease called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is excess plaque along the blood vessel wall, when this plaque builds it causes blockages. Manufactured sugar also appears to lower high-density lipoprotein, which is our ‘good cholesterol’. Both high cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis increase your risk of developing heart disease.

The bottom line is that excess amounts of sugar is not good for us; it promote heart risks and drives chronic disease.


So how much is too much?

Nutrition labels often tell us how much sugar a food contains. You can compare labels and choose foods that are lower in sugar.

As a general guideline, look for the “Carbohydrates (of which sugars)” figure in the nutrition label.

  • high – over 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
  • low – 5g of total sugars or less per 100g


If the amount of sugars per 100g is between these figures, then that is a medium level of sugars. See table below for foods children frequently consume.

Recommended daily allowances for preschool children (American Heart Association)

Age    Daily sugar intake should not exceed:  
0-1 years   20 grams (equivalent to 5 teaspoons)
0-3 years     16.7 grams  (equivalent to 4 teaspoons)
4-8 years   12.5 grams (equivalent to 3 teaspoons)


Here are a list of some foods children frequently eat and their sugar content

 Food     This is the amount of
sugar per 100 grams 
  Is that high, medium or low
amounts of sugar?
Porridge Oats
Ready Brek
Bran Flakes
Coco Pops
Apple/orange juice
Cream cracker
Chocolate biscuit
Milk chocolate
Petits Filous
Organic Glenisk
Muller Mini Corner
  1.3 grams
1.0 grams
4.4 grams
14.9 grams
18.3 grams
42.0 grams
5.0 grams
9.5 grams
1.4 grams
13.6 grams
28.5 grams
56.5 grams
12.2 grams
10.0 grams
11.3 grams

Low = eat as much as you like
Medium = watch your intake
High = eat seldom and in small amounts

Note: 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon



Let’s make some sensible decisions when it comes to sugar:


Watch out for sugar in drinks!

A short walk down the supermarket aisle shows us just how popular sugary drinks are – and there’s no point denying that many children like them. However, these drinks are usually high in kilojoules (energy) and sugar and provide very few nutrients.See our tips for healthy drinking…


Watch out for sugar in snacks

Snacks provide an important contribution towards meeting your child’s daily nutrition requirements.See our tips for reducing sugar in snacks…


Watch out for hidden sugar!

While there’s obviously sugar in biscuits and buns, there’s also lots of sneaky sugar packed into places where you don’t expect it. Here are a list of high sugar foods that may surprise you!

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