Leona O'Neill: Looking forward to less of the sweet stuff since Sugar Swap Week

Talking the talk about cutting down on sugar in our diet is all very well but my family and I decided to walk the walk too, by participating in Sugar Swap Week, writes Leona O'Neill

Children should have no more than the equivalent of five sugar cubes a day, according to the WHO
Children should have no more than the equivalent of five sugar cubes a day, according to the WHO

WE ALL know that sugar is not our friend. We all know we should be reducing the sugar in our kids' diets. But it’s easier said than done – with sugar even hidden in seemingly healthy food – to achieve this in reality.

Sugar and kids go hand in hand. When we want to treat our kids, ice cream or a packet of sweets is usually the first port of call for many parents. Family celebrations revolve around cake and fizzy drinks. When the kids are scouring the kitchen cupboards for a chocolate biscuit and you offer them a nice shiny apple in substitute they may well recoil in horror. That’s how kids are wired.

In shops, chocolate bars are set beside the till so as to aid advanced child nagging while waiting to pay. Packets of brightly coloured sweet, with fun and friendly characters on the front enticing them, take up entire aisles in supermarkets.

Science and nutrition boffins have long told us that sugar is not good for humans. High intakes of the stuff cause our blood sugar levels to spike, making us feel good, then suddenly crash, resulting in a slump that leaves us grumpy, tired and craving even more sugar. It’s a vicious circle that is contributing to our and our children’s weight problems as well as conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

A lot of the processed food – particularly that which is geared towards kids – is full of added sugar that does nothing nutritionally for us except pump us full of empty calories, resulting in us consuming more than we need and putting on weight.

The World Health Organisation says that only 5 per cent of our daily calorie intake should consist of added sugars. That equates to seven sugar cubes. Children should have no more than the equivalent of five sugar cubes. One can of cola has the equivalent of almost 10 sugar cubes. A regular bar of chocolate can have five to 12 sugar cubes in it.

I doubt anyone would sit and eat 30 sugar cubes out of a bowl in one day, but our kids could be consuming the equivalent through drinks and sweets daily.

Fizzy drinks are a real culprit – a can of cola contains almost 10 sugar cubes
Fizzy drinks are a real culprit – a can of cola contains almost 10 sugar cubes

Two weeks ago I took part in Sugar Swap Week, which was supported by Belfast-based sugar-free food company Free-ist. They established the week in wake of the introduction of the UK’s Sugar Tax on fizzy drinks as well as the increasing interest in a sugar-free way of life.

Free-ist sent me a host of products – from marshmallows to popcorn to bars of chocolate to biscuits – to support me in Sugar Swap Week and asked me to ditch the sugar and reach for one of their sugar-free options when the need arose.

It’s no easy task to ditch the sugar. I had vivid and terrifying Nam-esque flashbacks to sugar-free products of old which had the texture and flavour of cardboard. But the Free-ist products – with their funky, bright packaging, appeared to be different.

Despite ferocious resistance I roped the kids and the husband in too. And although there was much complaining and doomsaying before we started, as well chatter about people cracking under the pressure of going cold turkey and going mad with the sheer lack of sugar, none of it came to pass. We all survived and we were all grand. The Free-ist snacks were beyond lovely.

In fact the kids loved the sweets and said the chocolate bars were the nicest chocolate they have ever tasted. And believe me, they are connoisseurs in such matters despite their tender ages.

So we are extending Sugar Swap Week in our house. We’re going to give this a whirl and really cut down, because we feel better and the weird thing is we are not craving it any more. Fizzy drinks and juice have been replaced with water and milk, the chocolate biscuits with sugar-free popcorn and meals are cooked from scratch. And no-one is complaining, which is definitely a good side effect.

:: For more info on Sugar Swap Week and tips on going sugar free see