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Brains trained to seek more and more sugary treats

Melanie Burgess, February 16, 2022 7:00PM Kids News

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Six teaspoons or 25g. That is the maximum amount of added sugar a child should consume each day, according to the World Health Organisation.

But many children far exceed* this level.

Dietitian* Susie Burrell said a cupcake or slice of banana bread often contained more than this daily limit, so “we know our kids are eating way too much added sugar”.

Ms Burrell said eating and drinking excessive* sugar has been an issue for years, largely thanks to juices, unhealthy snack foods and parents rewarding children with treats.

Sugar cubes. media_cameraMany kids now consume far more than the World Health Organisation’s recommended maximum of the equivalent of six teaspoons or 25g a day.

The negative impacts included weight gain, overeating, tooth decay, lower consumption of nutrient* rich foods and priming* the brain to seek out more and more sweet food.

“The funny thing about sugar is that it is naturally occurring in a number of foods,” she said.

“For example, fruits contain the natural sugar fructose, while dairy contains the natural sugar lactose.

“Indeed small amounts (20-30g) of natural sugars consumed each day as part of a healthy diet poses no health issues.

“The issue in modern diets is that we are very good at concentrating* these sugars – (for example) turning fresh fruit into juice with two to three times the amount of sugars … or consuming milk in a smoothie that also has honey and fruit added, which gives you another 20-30g of sugars without us realising it.

“It is these concentrated sources of sugar, as well as the huge amounts of added sugars found in many processed foods that tip our – and our kids’ – intake of added sugars over the edge.”

Susie Burrell SMARTdaily media_cameraDietitian Susie Burrell, pictured at home in 2020 with her twins Gus and Harry, then 4-years-old. Picture: Christian Gilles

Ms Burrell said her top five tips for sugar-smart kids are:

● Juice should not be a daily drink, so stick to water and keep juice for special occasions

● Know what you’re eating – read your snack labels and check for

● Avoid eating more than one packaged and processed* snack each day

● Treats should be child-sized, just like you – e.g. mini cupcakes, mini ice-creams

● Explore new savoury snacks over sweet – e.g. try crackers and cheese, hummus and vegetables

● All kids love ice-cream and cake, but they are best once a week only

Child licking ice-cream cone.  icecream eating /Ice/cream /Eating /Children media_cameraPortions should be child-sized, just like you, and ice-cream should be eaten a maximum of once a week.

Nutritionist and co-founder of meal plan app BiteRite, Dani Guy said she tried to minimise the sugar intake of her three children – aged 7, 4 and 3 – but doesn’t cut it out completely.

“I think it’s important for everyone to have balance,” she said.

“If we cut it out completely it can cause bigger issues down the track – kids rebelling against the strictness of it all and wanting to binge*, or going to birthday parties and feeling left out. “We all eat a very wholefood* diet, but I don’t stray away from giving kids the occasional ice cream or chocolate.”

NSW_WENTWORTH_BONDICAKES_WK38(2) media_cameraNobody wants to miss out on a slice of birthday cake – but cake is a special treat and not something any age group should eat more than once a week. Picture: John Appleyard


Homemade treats taste better and have fewer and fresher ingredients, making them a terrific and healthier alternative to store bought, packaged and processed foods. Ask a grown up to help you!


• 65g Peter’s No Added Sugar, low-fat ice-cream

• 25g wholemeal self-raising flour

• 10g dates, pitted

• 5g date syrup


1. In a mug, combine the ice-cream and chopped dates, and microwave for 20-30 seconds or until ice cream has melted

2. Remove from the microwave and add in the wholemeal self-raising flour. Mix with a spoon to combine.

3. Place mug back in the microwave and cook for about 40 seconds or until risen and slightly moist in appearance.

4. Drizzle with date syrup and either enjoy in the mug or loosen the edges of the cake with a knife and transfer onto a plate.

— Dani Guy from BiteRite

media_cameraNutritionist and co-founder of BiteRite Dani Guy, with her husband Cam and their children Nixon, 7, Tao, 5, and Harmi, 3.


  • exceed: go beyond, extend past
  • dietitian: professional who uses nutrition and food science to promote health
  • excessive: more than is necessary, healthy, sensible or desirable
  • nutrient: substance needed for healthy growth, development and function
  • priming: when exposure to one stimulus – like sugar – influences how a person responds to a subsequent, related stimulus
  • concentrate: reducing a product in volume by removing most of the liquid
  • processed: manufactured food with chemicals added, making it last longer or taste better
  • binge: consuming excessive amounts of something in one sitting
  • wholefood: food in its natural form, without any artificial additives


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How healthy is your breakfast?


  1. How many teaspoons of sugar a day does the World Health Organisation recommend for kids?
  2. Name three sources that dietitian Susie Burrell said contributed to kids consuming too much sugar?
  3. What are three of the negative impacts named in the article?
  4. What is the natural sugar found in fruit?
  5. What is the natural sugar found in dairy?


1. Track your sugar!
How much sugar do you think you eat each day? Include the different types of sugars that are in the story. Write your amount in grams or teaspoons.

Can you check it to see if you are right?

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science; Health and Physical Education

2. Extension
Be inspired by the recipe in the story. Create a new recipe for a healthier version of your favourite sweet treat or junk food. Hint: try to replace at least two ingredients with healthier choices.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Health and Physical Education

I spy nouns
Nouns are places, names (of people and objects), and time (months or days of the week).

How many nouns can you find in the article?

Can you sort them into places, names and time?

Pick three nouns and add an adjective (describing word) to the nouns.

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