Should you indulge your child's sweet tooth?

A child with a raging sweet tooth can't pass up a colorful lollipop.
A child with a raging sweet tooth can't pass up a colorful lollipop.
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Kids and sweets go together like peanut butter and jelly. Or peanut butter and Fluff. And both of those accompaniments -- jelly or Fluff -- can be loaded with sugar. Which, of course, makes those sandwiches considerably more appetizing to most kids. So is it OK to indulge your child's sweet tooth? And how much is too much?

The simple answer to the first question is "yes," provided you don't go overboard. Like any guilty pleasure, such as television or amusement park rides, youngsters will gobble as many sweets as you give them -- and then ask for more. You can't expect them to say "Enough." It's important to remember that a parent's first responsibility to their children is to be a guardian and caregiver, not a friend or playmate.

The dietary guidelines you set for your children, both at home and away, often set the tone for the rest of their lives. Here is where the second question comes into play. Getting an accurate answer to "How much is too much?" is difficult, due to the wide range of body types, metabolism rates and activity levels among children.

That said, eating habits are exactly that: habits. And once they become ingrained, detrimental habits are difficult to break. The rule of thumb ought to be "everything in moderation." When using sugar, less is better. Limit additional sweeteners, such as sprinkling it on breakfast cereals (which already contain more sugar than most parents realize), or adding too much to drinks such as lemonade. Make fudge squares or ice cream a special treat, not an everyday occurrence.

One of the best ways to indulge your child's sweet tooth is to occasionally enhance their diets with sweets that are better for them. Opt for natural substitutes, which are healthier and, in many instances, every bit as tasty. Favorite natural alternatives include flavored seltzer waters (maybe with a fresh-squeezed lemon, lime or orange), fresh fruit, yogurt and frozen snacks made from real fruit juice. Just remember, even all-natural fruit juices can have high sugar content.

So, what's so bad about sugar?