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The truth about sugar

It can be hard to decide which foods are the best for our toddlers, particularly when it comes to sugar. Get the full story on the different types of sugars you might find in your little ones' food.

What is sugar made of?

Sugars are carbohydrates found in a range of foods that we eat. We can divide sugars into 2 groups; sugars that are found naturally in our foods, and sugars added to foods to increase their sweetness.

Some of the sugars found naturally occurring in our foods include fructose (found in fruits), lactose (found in milk), and glucose (found in pasta and breads).

‘Added sugars’ are those added into foods by the manufacturer – and are detailed in the list of ingredients and may be labelled as sucrose, often referred to as table sugar, honey, syrup and fruit juice concentrate. Added sugars provide little in the way of extra vitamins and minerals but they do supply extra energy (kilojoules).

Whilst all sugars provide energy in our diets, it is my opinion that children are eating too many foods with added sugars. This may increase the risk of your little one developing health problems from poor nutrition, like weight gain and tooth decay.


What are the different types of sugar?

When we talk sugar, most of us think of sucrose which is referred to commonly as ‘table sugar’.  Sugar is a type of carbohydrate which comes in 2 forms, simple and complex (also known as starchy carbohydrates).

Some of the more common simple carbohydrates are lactose (found in milk), fructose (found in fruits), and sucrose.

Unlike pure sucrose that provides little in the way of other nutrients, the foods that contain naturally occurring lactose, glucose and fructose also supply nourishing nutrients such as protein, calcium, fibre and vitamins and minerals. These sugars, along with many other nutrients in the foods, are digested by the body providing fuel and energy for muscles and the brain.

Common type of sugar Mainly found in
Glucose Fruits, starchy vegetables, honey, cereals
Fructose Fruits, starchy vegetables, honey
Lactose Dairy products
Sucrose Sugar cane/beet, table sugar added to foods

Click to see which foods have naturally occurring or added sugars


How much added sugar is suitable for my toddler?

This does not include the sugars naturally occurring in our healthy foods such as fruit, plain milk and natural yoghurt.

How much sugar should a child have daily?

Recommended sugar intake will depend on your child’s age. For a quick reference, you can refer to our handy table:

Age Maximum recommended daily sugar intake
Children under 4 Avoid all foods and drinks with added sugar
Children aged 4-6 19g or 5 sugar cubes
Children aged 7-10 24g or 6 sugar cubes
Children aged 11+ 30g or approximately 7 sugar cubes

Toddlers should be offered a variety of healthy foods from all food groups to support adequate growth and development. There is no need to add additional sugar or salt when preparing their food. As a parent, one of the best things you can do for your child is try to reduce the amount of processed (or energy dense) foods with added sugar. Instead, include tasty, healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and wholegrain foods. For clever ways to include more healthy foods in your toddler’s diet, click here.


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