Our Family’s Sugar Experiment

Update. In Jan 2019 this blog post was picked up by the BBC who ran this article 

My 10 year old has devised a sugar experiment for the whole family, the results of which have really surprised me. I wouldn’t normally blog about food issues relating to health, but this has had such a positive impact that I feel I should share it with you.

I have 3 children, two boys aged 12 and 10 and a girl aged 6. The boys are big into football. My 10 year old has been reading in his football magazine, that healthy eating is important if you are going to maximise your fitness.

A few weeks ago, he announced to us all that he had measured out our daily sugar allowances in little bowls in the kitchen and when we ate anything, we were to check the sugar content and spoon that amount back into the sugar jar. When our pot was empty, we’d had our sugar allowance for the day.

The first surprise, was that your recommended daily sugar allowance, isn’t actually that much.

  • Children aged 4 – 6 years 19g or 5 teaspoons
  • Children aged 7 – 10 years 24g or 6 teaspoons
  • 11 years and over 30g or 7 teaspoons

A teaspoon is about 4g of sugar

When I say that it’s not actually that much, that’s probably because according to research, most of us are used to eating at least twice this amount and those in the 11 -18 age bracket are regularly consuming 3 times as much.

Eating too much sugar causes tooth decay, weight gain and can lead to type 2 diabetes. Tooth decay is the biggest reason for hospital admission in primary school aged children with sugary and fizzy drinks being the main culprits.

Your daily sugar allowance relates to what are called ‘free sugars’, essentially sugars that are added to foods by manufacturers. Whole pieces of fruit and vegetables as well as milk do not count towards your sugar allowance. Fruit juices, including concentrates, however, do count. This is because fruit juices contain less nutrients than the whole piece of fruit and little or no fibre.

Over the last few weeks, as a family we’ve all become a lot more aware of how much sugar is hidden in food, and in every instance, it has always been higher than we imagined, so for example

  • A two finger kit-kat contains 10.8g of sugar or 2.5 teaspoons
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato ketchup is almost 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 slice of bread contains 1.5g of sugar

My youngest child is 6 and she has a sweet tooth. The change in her eating habits has been the biggest surprise. On day 2, she announced that she no longer wanted to add any sugar to her breakfast cereal. Losing any of her allowance that early in the morning was too much. She has started eating healthier foods that she wouldn’t touch before such as whole pieces of fruit. We no longer have tears when I say no to something. She understands now that the occasional sugary snack is ok, but there is a good reason she is not allowed unlimited biscuits. Because she can see her daily sugar allowance in her bowl, the concept of a teaspoon actually means something to her. The act of spooning the sugar back into the jar means she can see how much sugar is in the thing that she is about to eat. Finally, she is beginning to understand that not all foods are the same, some are healthy, some are ok and some are for occasional treats.

For many children, the reason their sugar intake is so high, is often down to fizzy and sugary drinks. Whilst some professional athletes may consume energy drinks to replace ions and sugars lost through  exercise, basically, if you consume more calories than you burn, you are going to put on weight. I was also interested to discover on the popular 500ml bottles, that the sugar content was only given for 1 serving, which apparently is only half a bottle! So you’re only meant to drink half a bottle at a time of those drinks and if you look at the list below, you’ll see why. Remember, for anyone over the age of 11, the recommended daily allowance is 7 teaspoons.

  • 330ml can of coke has 35g of sugar, higher than even an adults daily allowance at nearly 9 teaspoons
  • 500ml bottle of Mountain Dew contains 66g of sugar or 16.5 teaspoons of sugar
  • 553ml bottle of Monster Energy contains 62g of sugar or 15.5 teaspoons of sugar
  • 500ml bottle of Lucozade contains 62g of sugar or 15.5g teaspoons of sugar
  • 500ml bottle of Cherry Cola contains 56g of sugar or 14 teaspoons of sugar
  • 500ml bottle of Dr. Pepper contains 36g of sugar or 9 teaspoons
  • 500ml bottle of Sprite contains 34g of sugar or 8.5 teaspoons
  • 500ml bottle of Fanta contains 34g of sugar or 8.5 teaspoons
  • 500ml bottle of Volvic touch of Summer Fruits contains 21.4g of sugar or over 5 teaspoons of sugar

I also looked at some drinks marketed to younger children

  • 200ml bottle of Robinsons 1 of your 5 a day fruit shoot contains 18g of sugar or 4.5 teaspoons
  • 200ml Capri Sun orange pouch contains 20g of sugar or 5 teaspoons
  • 200ml Capri Sun blackcurrant flavour pouch contains 24.4g of sugar or just over 6 teaspoons

Our family sugar experiment has been interesting because, firstly, the daily allowance figures are not mine. I cannot be blamed for them being low or be accused of being mean. Both myself and my husband have lost those extra pounds we put on over the holidays, and apart from walking, I have done no exercise. I feel that my kids are better able to make good choices for themselves when it comes to food and especially drinks. My daughter is now eating healthy food that she refused before and understands why I sometimes say no. Reading the labels on foods has been a real eye opener and we have discovered that foods are not always as they seem and labels can be misleading. Sugar is addictive, but after a few weeks we can all say that we are now quite happy with our daily sugar allowance and it no longer seems low.

One thought on “Our Family’s Sugar Experiment

  1. Bethan O'Sullivan says:

    Wow. Well done to your son for that experiment. Hubby moaned and said we eat more yadda yadda. I’m going to try this! But I will struggle as I’ve never kept a diary or kept to a diet or a lifestyle change for more than five minutes. I’m hoping that hoping zero waste will help me.

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