Why do children like sugary foods

Nutritionist Matthias Riedl: “Don't need sugar”: Doctor explains 6 strategies for children to eat healthily

Children usually enjoy toast, pasta and sweets. Vegetables and healthy foods are often less. It is in the power of parents to change the eating habits of their children to "healthy", says physician Matthias Riedl.

Almost every day I get e-mails with such cries for help: "What should I do? My daughter (12) only eats fish fingers, noodles and toast." The cause is always: wrong coinage, of course. My second experience: Grandparents, godmothers and friends of the family are more optimistic - possibly due to a lack of everyday experience. Now that the child can eat the "right things", she thought, they cook lavishly in order to please the little darling with their own favorite dish, for example.

For example, I heard a friend tell us how she prepared "Melanzane alla parmigiana" for her two-year-old goddaughter - a southern Italian aubergine casserole that takes a lot of effort. And the dear little one? Looked skeptical when she was served the treat - and then, after trying a tiny bite, disgusted to outraged.

About the author

Matthias Riedl is a nutritionist, diabetologist and medical director of medicum Hamburg, Germany's largest specialist nutritional practice. As a member of the board of the Association of German Nutritionists (BDEM), he advocates education on the subject of nutrition. Above all, he wants to support people who are no longer helped by conventional medicine. Here you can read an excerpt from his current book "The Power of the First 1000 Days".

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"The power of the first 1000 days" by Matthias Riedl, GU Verlag, 272 pages, 19.99 euros

A mistake with an announcement: Because such an aubergine dish combines many unknown flavors, some of which are also bitter. Neither the dark purple vegetables nor the parmesan and the Italian herbs in the tomato sauce are known to young children when it comes to enjoyment. And, let's remember: what the child does not know, it does not like - and if it is also bitter, it evokes natural, innate aversion.

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Introducing children to unknown tastes - step by step

Therefore, no child will immediately like a dish that we love as adults: The neophobia is usually affected several times. And yet: In theory, people who euphorically try to get children excited about things other than pasta and potatoes are absolutely correct. Because only when these culinary barbarians are patiently seduced to put aside their innate unwillingness to face all unknown foods, will they get used to eating variedly.

Parents who want to shape their children in a positive way should cut a thick slice of this missionary will, as relatives and acquaintances who are not too close relatives often show when dealing with indulgent children. And then proceed a little more skillfully in practice than the godmother with her eggplant casserole.

Specifically, that means: initially simply subjugating the children with what is healthy! And so long until they have got used to the new taste - and then at some point they also like the food pure, from which the once unknown and rejected taste originated. The easiest way to do this - like most things - is with a plan.

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I recommend adding at least three new items to the menu every week as soon as children are given complementary foods, ideally more. And how do you convince children that the new also tastes good? Using the following tricks:

1) Consistently present vegetables and co

Healthy foods such as peppers, lettuce, whole grain bread and legumes should be part of the children's environment as naturally as toys. Because the visual presence alone makes it a cultural constant. For example, it helps if parents have a full fruit and vegetable basket such as a decorative object in the kitchen that is clearly visible. And put a bowl with vegetable sticks on the table for every meal.

Again, it is irrelevant whether the child tries the cherry tomato enthusiastically or whether it is the parents who have to eat the vegetables for weeks - the offspring will notice. He is exposed to the healthy and will want to taste it on its own at some point: Healthy imprinting can succeed thanks to the efforts to imitate and the mere exposure effect.

2) Mix it, baby!

Mixing in healthy food so that the children hardly notice it is the classic among the cheering tricks. Does your child like pasta with tomato sauce? Next time, mix in a little oregano. Would your child like to eat mashed potatoes three times a day? Puree a carrot, then spinach, chard and cauliflower. Even a potato soup in which a finely pureed broccoli is hidden is very unlikely to be rejected by the child. Is it more popular with rice pudding? Cook this with whole grain rice to make the meal healthier.

Anyone who looks at children’s plate with this mix in mind will quickly discover various ways to get them used to vegetables and whole grains in a barely noticeable way.

An advantage that parents can make use of: all children like colors! To transform the mashed potatoes into something green with spinach, for example, or with a lot of beetroot into something purple, children will appreciate. It can help to make oneself aware that the differentiated color perception in children has to develop first. Orange and purple recognize even newborns; They only succeed in distinguishing between finer nuances, such as yellow, green and blue, months later.

Basically for the first few years: the stronger a color, the better. And: Both sexes like purple and red for a very long time.

More on the subject:

3) Playfully entice children to want to try healthy foods for themselves

Another trick that works in practice has been criticized reliably - namely, that of presenting food and meals in an imaginative way. "You don't play with food," parents often hear, preferably from their older contemporaries. Or also: "Who makes so much fuss about the food, only pampers and pampers children." I think such criticism is absolutely wrong.

Because: Children are not little adults who can be convinced with supposedly reasonable arguments - on the contrary. They are people who, unlike us older people, are almost exclusively guided by their primary needs. And these consist of being full and satisfied. Eating fills you up - and playing makes you happy. So there is nothing wrong with bringing healthy food into an exciting form - and in this way getting the youngsters excited about peppers, carrots and chickpeas.

For example, it is a good idea for parents to paint a face on bread with a vegetable spread, to conjure up a crazy hairstyle with paprika sticks or to put two slices of egg with two cherry tomatoes to make funny eyes. Also good: using cookie cutters to transform things like vegetable patties or zucchini and carrot tortilla into a dinosaur or a heart.

Hardly any child will reject something healthy if it looks like a toy! However, if parents label it as healthy, studies show that the chances are much worse that the offspring will try it. (...)

4) Use children's self-centeredness

Also tried and tested and found to be good: to use the "mine!" Reflex of the children to cheer them on with healthy things. The principle behind it: In the first few years in the world, children subconsciously assume that everything they see belongs to them - with all the consequences that parents can observe as soon as the offspring meets their peers with toys in the sandpit. Psychologists call this worldview self-centered: children see themselves and the environment around them as one.

Parents can use this fact very well to sell their children healthy food. For example, put a piece of paprika right next to the child's plate. Like a sandpit, it will consider this piece of paprika to be part of its world. Then take it away and put the piece of pepper in your mouth yourself. Ideally with accompanying tones that express enjoyment.

Not always, but in many cases a small hand will try to take the peppers away from them. Either to put it back next to your own plate - that's where it belongs, doesn't it? Or to imitate you and eat it yourself. Also good: to point out a little too clearly that the soup plate and its contents belong to you and then let the child try "a spoon" will encourage the offspring to experience healthy things as something that is desirable.

5) Be patient

Most importantly, parents should try to have as much fun as possible when trying to get their child excited about healthy eating. And don't take it personally if the offspring acknowledges the loving efforts with nothing but a shake of the head or the clearest "No!" That they are capable of at their age. (...)

6) Make the unhealthy inaccessible

Allow me to say one thing in advance, with a clarity that I would otherwise be reluctant to say: Children do not need sugar, do not need sugar, do not need sugar! It has always been like that - and that's how it is today. Even if the food industry wants us to know that children's laughter is invisible, but inevitably tied to chocolate bars and gummy bears. This is wrong!

To understand this, it is sufficient to take a quick look at the members of the indigenous peoples who feed their children without this whispering and far from industrially produced food. For example, members of the Tsimane tribe who live in the Bolivian Amazon region. What do children get to eat here? Bulbs that are rich in fiber, especially nuts, and now and then a little fish or meat.

Simple sugars are available in the form of fruits such as plantains and berries - which, in their natural variant, contain significantly less sugar than their relatives bred for sweetness that we get in this country.

Nobody needs industrial sugar

This healthy diet has healthy consequences - as scientists have found out into old age. An international research team led by Hillard Kaplan, professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico, literally put 705 members of the Tsimane through their paces, including with CT examinations. One finding: 85 percent of 40 to 94-year-olds had absolutely healthy hearts - for Americans this figure is 14 percent.

And: The arteries of an 80-year-old Tsimane were as flexible as those of a man in his mid-fifties in the USA. The scientists saw one reason for this difference in the natural diet of the indigenous people, and another in movement: they spend nine tenths of the time the tsimans have during the day in movement - for us it is just one tenth.

The example of the tsimane clearly shows that nobody needs industrial sugar to have enough energy to live on. Children certainly not. Because yes, they are evolutionarily shaped to love sweets. But what does "cute" mean to a newborn? It means "sweet as breast milk".

Feeding children completely sugar-free is unworldly - so postpone it as long as possible

A comparison: breast milk contains about seven grams of carbohydrates per 100 milliliters. A supermarket banana contains around three times as many carbohydrates per 100 grams, and gummy bears and milk chocolate around seven times as many. (...)

I am aware that anyone who wants to feed children in today's world completely sugar-free would have to move as a hermit into a jungle that no longer exists. No matter how devout supporter of the sugar-free group, no one can raise their offspring today without exposing them to temptations - for example at children's birthdays, in the school canteen or simply while shopping. To strive for that would be alien to life and worldly.

But what works and what I urgently advise all parents to do: Make the first 1000 days as little extra sweetness as possible. The children are still too young to understand what is piling up in the promising, colorful packaging in the supermarket. They have not yet heard of nut nougat rolls for breakfast and do not know how a spoonful of vanilla ice cream melts on your tongue. And precisely because they haven't experienced any of this, they don't miss it either.

Constant consumption of sugar makes you sick

Sure: sweet treats are a real treat if - older - children are shown them as an exception! But no father, no mother needs to be afraid that it might be too late for that at some point or that their children - especially premature babies - get too little energy without additional sugar. Rather, every day that children are delayed in contact with overly sweet things is a day won. (...) Because, as research has known for years, we can quickly become addicted to sweets.

The consequences of excessive sugar consumption are dire: Those who repeatedly succumb to the ubiquitous sugar frenzy are two to three times as likely to develop cardiovascular disease that ends fatally - compared to people who use it sparingly Have learned and cultivated sweetness.

Fruit is healthy - but bananas have a high sugar content

"What about fruit?" Many parents are likely to ask themselves this question at this point - and I hear it again and again in practice. My answer: Fruit, apart from very high-sugar varieties such as bananas or grapes, is healthy and should be part of children's diets just as naturally as vegetables and whole grain products. Berries, blueberries in particular, are local superfoods, for example: They can increase children's mental performance.

Only: parents overestimate the amount of fruit that is sufficient to benefit from the positive effects. (...) My advice: 150 grams of fruit (equivalent to a medium-sized apple) are enough to provide you with vitamins as an adult and with health-promoting secondary plant substances that give blueberries their color, for example.

The offspring need even less: a handful of children is enough for them to benefit from the valuable ingredients. Important: little banana! The natural fruit of the Tsimane Indians, for example, has only half as much fructose as our supermarket copies. Exciting: Since 2018, the Melbourne Zoo has only been feeding urban people instead of cultivated fruits - because the monkeys and other animals had suffered from diseases of civilization.

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