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Breakfast is considered an important meal for children because it breaks the overnight fasting period, replenishes their supply of glucose (body’s energy source) and provides other essential nutrients to keep their energy levels up throughout the day.
In general, kids who eat a healthy breakfast have more energy, do better in school, and continue to eat healthier throughout the day.
With kids consuming half their sugar quota first thing in the day, it’s no wonder there are increasing numbers of young children developing diabetes and early signs liver disease.
Breakfast is considered by most nutrition experts, including Public Health England, to be the most important meal of the day. It gets your brain and your metabolism going, and it suppresses the hunger hormone in your stomach so you won’t overeat at lunch.
But in our busy lives, it’s easy to turn to what is quick and cheap, like cereal.
For those die-hard “I’m gonna serve something hot for breakfast” types, it’s microwaveable breakfast sandwiches or instant oats.
And for those "You've got to get out the door now" types it's Granola bars. Protein bars. Yoghurts. Smoothies.
Sadly, as the National Diet and Nutrition Survey found, what you’re really doing is giving your children a huge sugar load while sending them on their way: half of their daily intake on average.
There’s a reason that the World Health Organisation and the United States Department of Agriculture have provided upper limits of sugar – because dietary sugar fries your kids’ liver and brain; just like alcohol.
Alcohol provides calories (7kcal/g), but no nutrition. There’s no biochemical reaction that requires it. When consumed chronically and in high dose, alcohol is toxic, unrelated to its calories or effects on weight.
Not everyone who is exposed gets addicted, but enough do to warrant taxation and restriction of access, especially to children. Clearly, alcohol is not a food – it’s a drug that is both toxic and open to being abused.
Dietary sugar is composed of two molecules: glucose and fructose. Fructose, while an energy source (4kcal/g), is otherwise vestigial to humans; again, there is no biochemical reaction that requires it. But fructose is metabolised in the liver in exactly the same way as alcohol.
And that’s why, when consumed chronically and at a high dose, fructose is similarly toxic and open to abuse, unrelated to its calories or effects on weight.
And that’s why our children now get the diseases of alcohol (type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease), without alcohol. Because sugar is the “alcohol of the child”. Also similar to alcohol, a high sugar intake is linked to behavioural problems in children and a drop in attention and concentration once it's effects wear off.
On average, cereal contains a whopping 12g of sugar, all added, in a typical serving. In 2011, the US-based Environmental Working Group (EWG) identified 17 breakfast cereals marketed to children in which added sugar constituted more than 50% of calories, and 177 with 40% or more.
Despite the notoriety of that disclosure, the EWG follow-up study in 2014 noted that not one of these breakfast cereals on the top 10 worst list had reduced its sugar content.
Consider Raisin Bran. Just raisins and bran, right?
Nope, there's 19g of sugar in a serving; with the raisins only accounting for 11g of that. That’s because the raisins are all dipped in a sugar solution to make them sweeter.
Second, my favourite – Lucky Charms – they’re “magically delicious” because of there marshmallows in the box. And the marshmallows are there because oats cost more than marshmallows and so they take up room in the box, yet the company gets to charge a premium for them.
But it doesn’t end just with cereal.
Consider a pot of pomegranate yoghurt, which has 19g of sugar. A plain yoghurt has 7g of sugar, all lactose (milk sugar), which is not a problem. Thus, each pomegranate yoghurt has 12g of added sugar.
There are 56 different names for sugar; by choosing different sugars as the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth ingredients, sugar can rapidly add up to be the dominant ingredient.
Perhaps the most pernicious danger is that of infant and toddler food. In 2015, the US Centers for Disease Control examined the nutritional information of 1,074 infant and toddler food products.
The survey found that 32% of toddler dinners, the majority of child-orientated snacks, and infant-aimed juices contained at least one source of added sugar, with 35% of their calories coming from sugar.
Don’t let your child succumb to hidden sugars by making sure they eat a breakfast free from added sugars.
Properly check the sugar content of any cereal you buy and look for healthy alternatives to the sugar packed brands. Don't be fooled by the brightly coloured packaging or the friendly cartoon mascot, they're just there to blind you to the hidden health hazards.
Another easy way to reduce your child's sugar intake at breakfast is to switch out any sugary juice or squash for a nice fresh glass of filtered water. Crisp water that has been filtered and chilled is a fresh accompaniment to any child's breakfast meal that will ensure your kids will be skipping to school, happy and hydrated!