By Dr Seema Khanna
Children love to eat sweets and we also delight our children with special treats. But sugar can be extremely unhealthy as it may depress the immune system making the child more susceptible to falling ill. It causes spikes in blood sugar levels, which can create imbalances leading to chronic health problems like obesity, lack of concentration, etc.
The substitute for sugar should never be artificial sweeteners, which come with their own harmful effects. They can alter the composition of gut bacteria and contribute to metabolic conditions like diabetes, obesity, malfunction of liver. Also, always check the ingredients of diet foods, chewing gum and many children’s toothpastes as these may contain artificial sweeteners.
It is advised to give your child raw organic sugars with stevia, an extremely sweet herb which can be used as an alternate for sugar. Another natural sweetener is date sugar which is simply dried dates grinded into powder. Coconut sugar made from coconut palm sap (the fluid circulating on the coconut plant) contains minerals, iron, zinc, calcium and a fibre called insulin, which lowers the absorption of glucose, proving the low glycemic index of coconut sugar. Hence, it is much better than table sugar.
Another natural sweetener is maple syrup made from red or black maple trees. It contains sucrose, water, calcium, iron and other trace elements. It has a distinctive flavour, hence can be used in homemade cakes and cookies. Honey is another natural sweetener which has being used since ages; Egyptians were skilled beekeepers and gathered honey from around the beehive. Honey contains fructose sugar and antioxidants that help lower blood pressure, while triglycerides help to suppress cough. Honey should not be used for kids below the age of one year. All the above mentioned sweeteners are safe and natural form of sweeteners but moderation is the key.
This is another easy fix to replace sugar during baking for kids. The whole fruit contains the fibre and protein that is removed from fruit juice, so liquefying whole pieces of fruit is a more nutritious option than fruit juice. Bananas, apples or berries can take the place of sugar when making muffins, added to pancakes and smoothies as well as poured over oatmeal or other hot cereal.
This is another extremely beneficial natural sweetener. The ideal time to start feeding your babies with raisins can mostly be around 8-10 months of age. Use very little of it in a meal, as it can be sweeter than sugar. It can be made easily at home by soaking raisins for a few hours and blending them to make a thick pulp. Store this for 2-3 days in a fridge for instant use in your baby food recipes.
Molasses can also be used. It is a thick, brown and sweet liquid made by boiling sugar beet or sugarcane juices. It can be used in baking and in recipes where brown sugar is called for. It is an alternative for honey or maple syrup.
It is very easy to restrict the use of sugar in your child’s diet as they don’t cultivate the taste till they experience it. On the onset of weaning, a baby should be introduced to sugar-free baby feeds to keep the taste of sugar at bay. If the feeds are introduced with sugar, then changing the habit is not easy. Parents may go through an initial period of struggle while adopting a new lifestyle as they introduce natural sugars.
(The writer is a consultant nutritionist.)