Sugar in snacks

Sugar in Snacks – Friend or Foe?

Children in the UK are consuming well beyond the recommended daily amount of sugar. What can we do about this? Read on to find out.
How Scandinavians have cracked the snacking culture Reading Sugar in Snacks – Friend or Foe? 6 minutes

In recent years, the spotlight has turned towards the excessive sugar consumption among children in the UK, revealing alarming statistics and prompting a call for change. Children in the UK are consuming well beyond the recommended daily amount of sugar, primarily from processed foods, sugary drinks and sweets. This article delves into the sources of this sugar, the impact on health, and how parents and caregivers can make snack times healthier, benefiting both physical health and emotional well-being.

Why Children Crave Sugar

Children are naturally drawn to sweet flavours. Evolutionarily, sweetness is associated with energy-rich foods, and this preference has been beneficial for survival. When weaning, babies will normally prefer fruits and sweet foods as breast and formula milk is sweet. Also, a human’s brain is fuelled by glucose sugar so it isn’t surprising that it can become a very addictive foodstuff. And, in today's environment, where high-sugar foods are abundantly available, this preference can lead to overconsumption.

The Addictive Nature of Sugar

Sugar's addictive qualities are well-documented. It activates the brain's reward system, releasing dopamine, which creates a pleasurable feeling and encourages repeated consumption. Children are particularly sensitive to these effects due to their developing brains, making them more prone to sugar addiction. Additionally, sugar preferences are often established early in life, influenced by genetic, environmental, and social factors.

Sources of Sugar in Children's Diets

Children in the UK are consuming on average 13.3% of their daily energy intake from added sugars, which is nearly double the recommended limit of 5%. The primary sources of sugar in their diets include:

  1. Sugary Drinks: Soft drinks, fruit juices, and energy drinks are major contributors, often containing more sugar than parents realize.
  2. Sweets and Confectionery: Sweets, chocolates, and sugary snacks are popular among children.
  3. Breakfast Cereals: Many cereals marketed towards children are loaded with sugar.
  4. Baked Goods: Cakes, cookies, pastries, and biscuits are common snacks high in sugar.
  5. Processed Foods: Items such as yogurts, sauces, and ready meals often contain hidden sugars.

Health Impacts of Excessive Sugar Consumption

The overconsumption of sugar has significant negative effects on children's health, including:

  • Obesity: High sugar intake contributes to weight gain and increases the risk of obesity, which is linked to numerous health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and joint issues.
  • Dental Problems: Sugar is a major cause of tooth decay and cavities.
  • Behavioural Issues: Excessive sugar can lead to hyperactivity and difficulty concentrating.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies: High-sugar foods often displace more nutritious options, leading to deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals.

Benefits of Reducing Sugar Intake

By reducing sugar intake, children can experience numerous health benefits:

  • Improved Physical Health: Lower risk of obesity, better dental health, and overall better nutrition.
  • Enhanced Emotional Well-being: More stable energy levels and improved mood regulation.
  • Better Academic Performance: Improved concentration and cognitive function.

What can we do in the UK? - Steps for Reducing Sugar in Children's Diets

Reducing sugar intake doesn't mean eliminating all sweet foods but rather making smarter choices. Here are some strategies:

  1. Healthier Snacks: Replace sugary snacks with fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains.
  2. Read Labels: Pay attention to nutritional labels and choose products with lower sugar content.
  3. Limit Sugary Drinks: Encourage water, milk, or unsweetened beverages instead of sugary drinks.
  4. Homemade Treats: Prepare snacks at home where you can control the amount of sugar added.
  5. Positive Reinforcement: Praise and encourage children when they choose healthier options.

By taking these steps, parents and caregivers can ensure that snack time becomes a moment of nourishment and joy rather than a sugar-laden pitfall, paving the way for healthier and happier children.

Should you completely eliminate sugary or salty snacks from your diet?

I don’t believe in completely eliminating sugary or salty snacks from the diet of children as we all know that if we can’t have something, we want it even more!

This was my first-hand experience as a child! My parents were REALLY strict about restricting snacks to the point that when I left home and went to university, I bought all the things I wasn’t allowed to eat – because I could!

 I don’t have a sweet tooth necessarily but my goodness, I could eat crisps all day! And, that’s because I couldn’t eat them as a kid. And yes, I am a Nutritionist but I still allow my children to have snacks such as chocolate and crisps however it is simply in moderation. They don’t get to help themselves whenever they want (we don’t keep lots at home) but if I feel that they have had some healthy meals that day, and they want an ice-cream, they can have one.

They don’t desire sweet things or crisps like I did. Yes, they like them, they are children, but they are not obsessed about them as I was!

We 100% need to reduce the sugar that our children are eating and the steps mentioned should be implemented by all -the benefits are obvious. However, I also think we need to be realistic and understand that there will always be days when children have more sugar than they should – and that’s life, just maybe make sure the following day that they are eating healthier snacks and their mealtimes are full of a balance of nutrients to maintain their hunger until the next meal.


The high sugar consumption among children in the UK is a pressing issue with far-reaching health implications.

By understanding the sources of sugar, its addictive nature, and implementing practical strategies to reduce intake, we can promote healthier lifestyles for our children.

Making conscious choices about snacks can lead to better physical health, emotional stability, and a brighter future for the younger generation.  Read my blog about Snack Culture in Scandinavia for an alternative snack culture.

The biggest change for our overall health as a nation would be for the food industry to take responsibility for their HUGE role in the obesity crisis we have in the UK due to their incessant, persistent, unethical marketing at kids with no thought about the long-term health outcome of us all. But, that’s another article.

Article written by @yourfamilynutritionist you can read more on Family Health and Nutrition here.


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