The shocking sugar-coated truth

Sugar shock ... A spoonful of sugar to help the supplement go down?
Sugar shock ... A spoonful of sugar to help the supplement go down? 

Just like most of you, I worry about my kids getting all the nutrients they need for optimal health and development. Yes I am a nutritionist and dietitian, but that doesn’t mean my kids always eat exactly what I would like them to. I feed them home-cooked nutritious meals when they are with me, we have a few meals eaten out where I have less control (but I still think learning how to eat in restaurants is part of their ‘food and culture training’) but they also spend half their time at their father’s place where I have no control. I’ve had to learn to relax on that and trust that long term my teachings on good eating and importance of exercise have brushed off. Yet I have to confess giving them one or two nutrition supplements is something I do to reassure me that they are getting what they need. I give my kids a daily multivitamin and mineral, plus a couple of fish oil capsules. No harm in that?

Well not if you choose the supplement wisely. However I have become increasingly concerned with how many children’s supplements on the pharmacy shelf look just like gummy bears or lollies. And that’s because they basically are. With the help of a leading Queensland pharmacy chain and a marketing company, we had a current leading brand of children’s vitamin supplements independently analysed. The shocking results revealed the product range contained over 50 per cent sugar!

As a nutritionist/dietitian and mother, I am horrified that such lollies are being sold under the guise of nutritional supplements for children. Adding a small dose of vitamins and minerals to a sugar-filled lolly does not make it good for our children. Nutritional supplements can be made appealing to children without the excessive use of added sugars.

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The companies producing these supplements will no doubt argue that if children have only the recommended dose then the amount of refined sugar they are getting is still small. I have several issues with this argument. Firstly jelly type lollies are a dental nightmare. The sugar sticks to kids teeth and produces the perfect environment for dental decay. Secondly kids like lollies and I can quite easily see the situation arising where kids will help themselves to endless supplies of the supplement lollies so that they end up with a significant amount of added sugar and an uncontrolled amount of the supplemental nutrients. Thirdly a little sugar added to a nutritious food can be part of a child’s healthy diet, but adding a few nutrients into a sugary lolly is not the same thing. It is just not necessary and has enormous potential for harm over benefit.

The shocking results revealed the product range contained over 50 per cent sugar!

The bottom line is that first and foremost one of our responsibilities as parents is to teach our kids to eat well, and to provide them with as healthy a diet as we can. That can be challenging at times but keep your eye on the big picture. If they are eating a fairly broad range of fresh minimally processed foods they will more than likely be getting all the nutrients they need. There is no harm and potentially some benefit from giving them a broad multivitamin and mineral and I certainly recommend an omega-3 supplement. But there are many good ones on the market that do not have added refined sugars nor artificial colours or flavours. Don’t be duped by the healthy image packaging and read the ingredients list and small print on the back of the pack so that you can make an informed choice over which supplements to buy. If we don’t buy them they’ll stop producing them.