When it comes to matters of taste, you and your kids are living in totally different worlds. A new study shows that kids taste sugar more intensely than adults can, leading them to choose sweeter foods.
With a little ingenuity, you can use that natural affinity to steer your sugar fiends away from unhealthy sweets. Instead, you can guide them towards healthy sweet snacks that please the stickiest of cravings.
Do Kids Have Sugar-Sensing Superpowers?
At the peak of berry season last summer, researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Pennsylvania teamed up with blueberry breeders from the University of Florida. Together they ran a particularly pleasant scientific study.
The researchers let 49 kids and their mums enjoy three varieties of fresh blueberries from two harvests. In the first harvest, one of the varieties was much sweeter than the other two. Both the adults and the children preferred the sweetest berries.
In the second harvest, the three varieties were similar in sweetness. Except one had just a little more sugar than the rest. The adults rated all the berries in the second harvest equally. But the children were able to identify the slightly sweeter bunch — and, of course, they liked them best.
Kids had a stronger ability to taste sweetness than their mums. Despite the fact they have very similar genes!
How a Taste for Sweets Affects Kids’ Nutrition
This study only backs up what every parent already knows: kids love sweets! Back in caveman days, children’s intense desire for sugar made sense. Sweet foods tend to have more calories — crucial fuel for active, growing bodies. Science backs up the relationship between growth spurts and sweet teeth.
When kids reach their full height in their teens, they often lose their taste for super-sugary treats. There’s even some evidence that kids who prefer sweets to salty snacks tend to be taller than their crisp-crunching peers. Yet, most modern kids get far too much sugar from processed, refined sources.
Kids hear the siren song of sugar on every street corner, from the soda machine to the scoop shop. In a sweets-saturated world, unchecked cravings can lead to obesity, tooth decay, and other complications. Plus, kids who fill up on sweets tend to ignore more wholesome foods. This can put them at risk for vitamin deficiencies.
But there’s a silver lining to a sweet tooth. The researchers found that nearly three-quarters of the kids they surveyed don’t eat the recommended daily amount of fruit. Despite the fact they clearly enjoyed their blueberries! They suggest that parents could encourage their kids to up their intake by replacing sweets with fresh fruit.
Healthy Sweet Snacks for Superkids
While there’s a lot of good stuff in fruit, it’s important to remember that even natural sugars can cause tooth decay and other issues. Your sugar-sensing superkids might also enjoy a selection of vegetables.
Sweet potatoes, parsnips, and beetroot provide a hint of sweetness, without the high sugar content of some fruits. Try incorporating a bit of sweet fruit and veg into more complex dishes, such as salads, stir fries, and curries. Cubed pumpkin pairs perfectly with a Thai-spiced coconut sauce. Natural nut butter spreads smoothly across apple slices. A little fruit can really brighten a pot of plain yoghurt.
The sweetness will make the dishes more palatable for your kids, while the other ingredients will introduce them to a variety of flavours. Some of our favourite kid-friendly snacks include sweet and savoury flavours.
After all, science says a sweet tooth is as much a part of being a kid as skinned knees and climbing trees. Instead of trying to squelch your child’s taste for sweets, use it as a gateway to the wider world of healthy food.