- Parents commonly underestimate the amount of sugar in foods.
- Recommendation is to limit 'added sugars' to 6 teaspoons for children per day.
- Sugar tricks your body into thinking it needs more to eat.
- Consuming sugar one hour before bedtime has the highest risk of developing tooth cavities.
- Raw honey before bed offers marginal benefits that only lessen the impacts of sugar.
As most parents are painfully aware, kids love to consume sugary desserts. Although intuitively it may seem like a poor decision to allow little ones to gorge on chocolate, cakes or ice cream before reading their bedtime stories , kids with a sweet tooth are often experts at getting their own way.
This issue may resonate strongly for parents of fussy eaters, particularly if the only way to get any nutritious food into your children is with the promise of a sugary snack straight after.
If you’re feeling a little smug about the fact that your kids manage to eat a diet low in sugar and high in nutrients, it may be worth taking a step back to consider the fact that many seemingly healthy foods contain shockingly high levels of sugar.
Recent studies have found that parents routinely underestimate how much sugar is in the food they give to their children.
One set of researchers found that 75% of parents underestimated the sugar content of foods and around 90% underestimated how much sugar can be found in a pot of yoghurt.
These findings are important to note because yoghurt is widely considered to be a healthy choice. This is also true of many other foods regarded as nutritious and harmless such as tomato sauce, fruit juice, and ketchup.
All of these foods are very high in added sugar and should be eaten in moderation to avoid health issues such as obesity and tooth decay.
Current guidelines advise kids to consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar, equivalent to around six teaspoons.
What is added sugar and why does it present an issue?
It is important to distinguish between added sugar and natural forms of sugar. Natural sugars include the fructose found in fruit and the lactose found in dairy products such as cheese, milk and natural yoghurt.
Added sugars include any sugars that have been added to foods or drinks during their manufacture or preparation. This could include the cane sugar added to a cup of coffee or sprinkled on porridge, as well as the sugar added to a range of processed products such as cookies, cakes, soft drinks, dairy desserts such as ice cream and sweetened milk, various breakfast cereals, and even savoury foods such as ready-made pies, spaghetti sauce, and soup.
Added sugars can often include natural sugars such as brown and white sugar and honey, as well as chemically-manufactured ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, an ingredient that has been shown to be particularly detrimental to metabolic health.
The main difference between natural and added sugar is that the latter is broken down very quickly by the body, causing insulin and blood sugar to spike. Overconsumption of added sugar can eventually lead to issues such as diabetes and obesity. Natural sugar, on the other hand, is usually found in food that is high in nutrients and healthy fibre, something that can help regulate your appetite and maintain a healthy weight.
Restless nights: The hidden consequence of added sugar
Besides the clear issues surrounding added sugar and weight gain, many people fail to realise the link between sugar and sleeplessness. According to a recent study, people who consume high levels of added sugar are more likely to experience periods of wakefulness during the night and to have trouble getting to sleep. This is particularly bad news for the parents of kids with a sweet tooth.
Why does sugar keep people awake?
Interestingly, sugar can actually trick the mind into believing that the body needs more food. As anyone who has gone to bed without dinner will know, falling asleep whilst hungry can be very difficult. As these cravings kick in, a person’s mind can go into overdrive and prevent them from falling asleep.
Lovers of sugar-sweetened beverages will be disappointed to learn that these sweet treats are amongst the worst offenders for keeping people awake at night.
If you or your child are experiencing bouts of insomnia, it is a good idea to try eliminating all sweetened beverages before bed.
Indeed, it is important to remember that these drinks can lock you into a cycle of consumption that will keep you awake for many nights to come. This is because they fool the brain into consuming more unhealthy foods and can worsen insomnia.
Many people will find that by addressing the underlying cause of their sleep issues and improving their sleep quality, their cravings for sugar will start to abate. All in all, this is a win-win situation!
Sugar has the potential to cause nightmare
Although there is no established direct link between sugar and scary dreams, wakefulness is associated with an increased likelihood of remembering dreams.
This can be particularly troubling for young kids who are easily spooked by nightmares.
Cutting down on sugar in the daytime, therefore, can help children and parents to achieve a more calm and restful night.
Sugar is bad for the teeth
It is widely acknowledged that eating high quantities of sugar is detrimental to oral health at any time of the day. According to recent medical research, however, eating sugary food in the hour before bedtime can put the teeth at particular risk, increasing kids’ risk of developing dental caries (cavities).
If you want to help keep the oral health of your little ones in check, it is a good idea to avoid all sugary foods before bedtime.
Sticky sweets such as lollipops, in particular, should be forbidden as they can increase the amount of time the teeth are exposed to sugar as they can remain stuck on overnight.
Starchy foods such as chips can also get stuck very easily, so they should be left for earlier times in the day.
Of course, as well as avoiding certain foods before bedtime, you should encourage your children to brush their teeth for at least two minutes as part of their evening routine. They should also be taught to floss regularly to ensure traces of food are removed from the teeth before going to sleep.
Raw honey: An alternative bedtime snack?
So, we’ve established that consuming high volumes of refined sugar before bed can keep you awake, as well as being detrimental to your metabolic and oral health. However, there is no doubting that eating something sweet before bed can be comforting and enjoyable. For those unwilling to let go of their bedtime treat, there is another potential option available: raw honey.
What is raw honey?
Raw honey is an unpasteurised form of honey that contains a range of natural health benefits often lost through the pasteurisation process. It contains high amounts of fructose and glucose, a combination thought to prevent night-time wakefulness by preventing cravings and releasing energy more slowly than refined sugars. Glucose provides short term energy whilst the energy gained from fructose is released more slowly.
Raw honey contains a natural sleep aid
As well as containing satisfying fructose, honey contains an amino acid known as tryptophan. Tryptophan can help people fall asleep more easily as the body is able to convert it into melatonin, a natural sleep aid.
It is also important to note that some kinds of honey also have antibiotic properties. This is great for people concerned about sugar and its potential to cause tooth decay. It may seem a little counter-intuitive to consume sweet treats as a means to achieve dental health, but honey has been shown to help prevent gum disease, including problems such as gingivitis and receding gums.
Certain popular kinds of honey such as manuka honey have also been shown to boast antiseptic qualities that could help to kill bad mouth bacteria. If you or your children have issues with tooth decay or bad breath, then, swapping daily sugary sweets with something containing raw honey could help to mitigate these problems.
Here’s the catch…
Whilst raw honey may sound like some kind of magical ingredient, it is still important to note that honey still comprises around 80% sugar. As a recent study has shown, this sugar can still promote the growth of bacteria and lead to the kind of acid build-up that so often causes tooth decay.
Whilst it may not be as harmful as other kinds of sugar, it still carries risks and should not be treated as something to gorge on.
Ultimately, the science behind raw honey is still a little sketchy and parents should think twice before feeding it to their kids before bed. Honey is still a form of sugar, after all.
Unfortunately, for parents with sweet-toothed children, bedtime may still be a battleground. No matter how difficult it may be, it is a good idea to try and wean your children off bedtime sugar altogether to help boost their sleep quality and avoid health issues further down the line.
If it is proving hard to send your children to bed without a sweet treat, or if you’re finding it hard to appease your own midnight cravings, consuming a teaspoon of raw honey could be a way to kick the habit. If it helps you to wean yourself off sugary snacks in the long term, it will be well worth it.