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“He likes it!”

July 11, 2011
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Parents of a certain age may remember a popular 1970s television commercial in which a finicky 4-year-old boy tastes a cereal purported to be healthy and enjoys it, much to the amazement of his brothers. Fast-forward to 2011, where a new study published in the journal Pediatrics found that a little sugar may help children eat a nutritious, balanced breakfast. 

Researchers gave 91 children at a summer day camp the option to choose between three high-sugar cereals or three low-sugar cereals for breakfast. Each child was allowed to serve themselves milk, juice, cut-up fruit and sugar packets. In the end, the children in the high sugar group consumed larger portions of cereal and ate nearly double the amount of refined sugar as their counterparts in the low sugar group. Children in the low sugar group added more table sugar to their cereal, but they also added more fresh fruit than the high sugar group.

Using a small amount of sugar to encourage toddlers to eat healthily seems an acceptable option to some nutrition experts. However, others frown on serving young children any sugar at all. "Sugar causes spikes in insulin, and if the insulin is not used, it's stored as fat," said Dian Griesel, a New York nutritionist. "Wheat [used in cereals] is not a good idea either, because it's processed and dehydrated."

Registered dietitian Jaime Schehr, also of New York, maintains that feeding young children a breakfast low in sugar and high in complex carbohydrates from grains is a cornerstone of good nutrition. "Low sugar is better than no breakfast at all," Schehr said. 

Both Schehr and Griesel agree that parents should model healthy eating habits while their children are young. Schehr suggests parents sit down to eat with their children, turn off the television during meals, and avoid rushing toddlers to finish eating. Parents should also be mindful of what foods they introduce into the household. "A child is not going to ask for [a food] they've never had," Schehr said. "We need to be careful, because what we give them is what they know."

‹‹ Back to this week's Monday Morning Report.


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