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  • Kids

    Is sugar really that bad for kids? Hidden sugars & where to find them in their favourite foods

    Jaime Rose Chambers1
    Written by Jamie Rose Chambers | Clinical Dietitian and Nutritionist

    If there’s one nutrition message that’s fairly well established now, it’s too much added sugar in our kid’s diet is not good for them. Added sugar is fairly easy to find – it’s abundant in sweets and ice cream and it’s easy to avoid if we want to. But it’s the hidden sugars found in so many foods that might look healthy, that can slip into our trolley unnoticed. So is sugar really that bad for kids and if so, where do we find them?

    There are two main sources of sugars: free sugars and added sugars. Free sugars are found in whole foods like fruit or milk products and are naturally packaged with essential nutrients important for kids growth and development like fibre, phytonutrients and vitamins. It’s the added sugars manufacturers add to processed and packaged foods that in excess, can be a problem.

    Sugar is an energy source, not a nutrient. The reason we need to limit the sugar in our kid’s diet is because eating a lot of sugar early on in life is linked to obesity and other chronic diseases later in life. High sugar foods are often devoid of nutrients so filling up on them means they take the place of a food that could provide kids with essential nutrients important for growth and development.

    The World Health Organisation recommends kids aged 2-18 should have no more than 25g or 6 tsp of added sugar per day and kids under 2 should have no added sugar at all. To put it into perspective, a can of soft drink has nine to 11 teaspoons of sugar.

    The hidden sugars manufacturers sneak into processed and packaged foods that appear healthy or have fancy words in the ingredient lists are the ones that we need to look out for because they’re the ones that can add a lot of extra sugar to our kids diets without us realising. When you’re looking for those hidden added sugars, spend a little time at the supermarket reading the ingredient lists of foods - there are three types to look out for:

    • Those with the word ‘sugar’: coconut sugar, raw sugar, cane sugar
    • Those that end in ‘ose’: fructose, dextrose, maltose
    • Those that are a syrup or nectar: maple syrup, brown rice syrup and coconut nectar.

    These might be found where you least expect it - in kids cereals, yoghurts, sauces and juice, even in some kids nutritional supplements. In fact, it’s estimated that three quarters of the foods in a supermarket contain sugar. This is because it makes it taste good! And we know that kids typically lean towards liking more sweet foods.

    Foods high in added sugar can of course can have a place in kids’ diets as they’re often part of celebrations like Easter and birthdays and are a source of a lot of enjoyment. Making sure kids are mostly eating healthy wholefoods means that the occasional sugary treat isn’t likely to be a problem.