Teach my child about 'Refined Sugars'
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Refined Sugars Overview

Refined Sugars Overview

Refined Sugars (or 'Processed Sugars') are sugars made in a refinery. The initial ingredients are natural sugar cane or sugar beet but these are then processed and usually highly concentrated to produce it in the form we have at the table or in candy.

Processed Sugars are simple carbohydrates, have a high Glycemic Index (GI) and are considered bad for your child's health if eaten regularly by increasing child weight and attacking their teeth. They also make children not want to eat proper nutritionally advantageous food. Natural sugars in fruit (fructose) or milk (lactose) should be considered healthy and are highly recommended as a sweet natural alternative to refined sugar. For an overview of carbs and the GI, refer to our 'CARBOHYDRATES' article.

Refined sugars have a high GI, hit your child's bloodstream quickly and about 50% is converted to fat before you can use it for energy. Your child's natural insulin levels spike when confronted with this large dose of sugars in the bloodstream and over time this can lead to type II diabetes.

Also it is well known that repeated doses of sugar causes tooth decay and cavities by turning to acid in the mouth.

Another hidden danger of sugar-laden foods and drinks is that children start to refuse to eat less sweet foods which are nutritionally much better for them (often citing they are full or don't like them). Why eat boring vegetables when you can have candy?

There are many attempts to hide and confuse consumers via ingredient labels and sugar can be called so many other things that make it sound healthier (it isn't!) like raw sugar, cane sugar, molasses, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate etc. If it one of the top 3 ingredients of a food item it is high in sugar.

Typical foods high in refined sugars are fizzy pops / sodas, many breakfast cereals, sugar, syrup, candy, cakes, doughnuts, biscuits, ice cream and desserts.

The best way to minimise your children's sugar intake is to have a plan to cut back slowly over the course of say 6 months. If you commit to dropping a small amount each month your child won't notice or complain too much!

Recommended Maximum Added Sugar Levels for Children

The recommended maximum sugar levels given by the American Heart Association is age dependent with younger children being 'allowed' 3 teaspoons of sugar per day (approx. 12g) and older teens up to 8 teaspoons daily (approx 32g). To put this in perspective, one standard sized candy bar can easily be 32g (8 teaspoons) of sugar.

In some studies children were ON AVERAGE typically having 3 - 4 times the maximum recommended amount!


Refined sugar is one of the biggest factors in poor child health. Obesity levels in children have risen steadily over the years due mainly to higher refined sugar, higher saturated fat intakes and reduced exercise levels.

Children who eat good carbs with low GI as opposed to refined sugars (which have a high GI) will generally be far healthier over the medium to long term. Of course kids will always want the odd treat, that's normal. But keep amounts low and certainly not daily. Avoid sugary drinks at all times because one sugary drink can contain 8 teaspoons of sugar.


"Be Sugar Savvy" resource

"Be Sugar Savvy" resource

Great activities and shocking facts about sugar to present to your child. It is a 38 page fun PDF document to printout. There are some nice activity sheets sheets including 'Ranking sugar content from lowest to highest' for snack and breakfast options.


"The Sugar Detective" resource

"The Sugar Detective" resource

This resource includes a Lesson Plan in Science or Math to help students investigate sugar in various drinks. They can then use their analytical and mathematical skills before developing an action plan for their new found knowledge on healthy drink alternatives.