10 Ways to Help Kids with Sugar Intolerance Stick to Eating Right
If your child has Sucrose Intolerance – informally referred to as “Sugar Intolerance” – caused by Congenital Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (CSID), getting them to stick to a low-sucrose and low-starch diet can be challenging — but it doesn’t have to be a battle.
The key to compliance is staying positive and giving your child a lot of choices and support.
“There are so many delicious foods that kids [with Sugar Intolerance] can eat that are healthy and satisfying,” says Linzy Ziegelbaum, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian from Long Island, New York. “It’s important to focus on what they can have, not what they can’t have.”
Working with a registered dietitian (RD) who can help guide children in making the right food choices in various situations — at school, out with friends, and at events — can make them feel secure and confident that they won’t make themselves sick when you’re not around to monitor what they’re eating.
“The more in control the child feels, the better,” says Ziegelbaum.
It’s also important to teach children how to advocate for themselves, helping them find the words they are most comfortable using to explain to others why they can’t eat something that everybody else is eating.
At home, be gentle and positive when guiding your child to make food choices, and be sure to keep your own anxiety in check.
“It’s best not to talk about foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’,” advises Paula Gallagher, MFN, RD, LD, a registered dietitian in Columbus, Ohio.
“Instead, say things like ‘These foods make your belly feel good, and these make it feel not so good.’ Feeling better is a big motivator for sticking with a diet,” she says.
“I tell families that a diagnosis can be a blessing in disguise, because it forces you to look at what you put in your body,” says Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN, clinical dietitian who runs food allergy support groups in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Paying attention to what you eat will help your body work better.”
Here are 10 more ways to encourage your child to stick to low-sugar living:
1. Be food label detectives. There are over 50 different words for sugar, and the sooner you start teaching your child (and yourself) how to spot them, the better. Read food labels together and make a game out of finding hidden sugars.
Start with these basic rules:
- Look for any food that contains the words “sugar,” “malt” or “syrup;” for example, beet sugar, barley malt, carob sugar.
- Look for foods with words that end in “ose;” for example, maltose, glucose, dextrose.
- Look for foods with words that end in “ol;” for example, sorbitol, erythritol, xylitol.
Food with these words in them go on the DON’T EAT THIS list.
Check with your child’s RD because kids with CSID may be able to tolerate some sugar. So while it’s smart to play it safe — and not confuse your child — find out if there are some foods that might not go on that hit list.
2. Practice role playing. If friends or other parents ask children questions about their diet, have your child prepared with an answer. Knowing what to say can reduce the stress of being caught off guard.
Plus, helping children teach others about their Sucrose Intolerance can help build their self-esteem.
Keep it simple: “Sugar doesn’t agree with me” or “Sugar makes me sick” or “I have something like lactose intolerance, but instead of dairy my stomach can’t handle sugar.”
You should also tell children that when they are offered sweets, or even foods that are healthy for other people such as apples and bananas and veggies like corn and potatoes, it’s important to say, “No thank you.”
3. Make grocery shopping a game. Young children will enjoy hunting the produce aisle for foods they can eat. Make it fun by challenging them pick out green or red foods they can enjoy (olives, cucumber, radishes, pomegranates, strawberries, and so on).
Helping kids learn their way around the produce aisle to identify foods that are safe for them prepares them well for shopping on their own later in life.
4. Cook together. Look up Sucrose Intolerance-safe recipes together, then put on aprons and Iron-Chef it.
Kids love playing sous-chef in the kitchen and can help measure, chop, stir, and more, depending on their age.
“Exposing your child to new foods and dishes is fun for everyone and gets you out of any food ruts,” says Kharod.
“By always trying new things, your child won’t feel deprived.”
5. Think of creative substitutions. If pizza is off limits for your child, try whipping together a CSID-friendly version with cauliflower crust and sugar-free sauce. If your child is craving cake, try making low-sucrose peanut butter pie.
Registered dietitians can work wonders when it comes to finding tasty alternatives to kid-friendly classics.
6. Prepare for parties. If your child’s been invited to a birthday party, call the host ahead of time to see what food will be served. Offer to have your child bring a treat or a fruit or veggie platter loaded with foods you know can be eaten safely.
Or feed children before they go so they don’t arrive hungry, only to find food they can’t eat.
7. Research restaurants. Before you head out to dinner, look up the menu ahead of time to find dishes your child can order.
If you have questions about how dishes are prepared, call ahead to ask. That way you won’t have to run through potentially long ingredient lists or ask embarrassing-for-your-child questions in front of friends or family members gathered at the table.
8. Create new family traditions. During holidays and family get-togethers, focus on fun — not food.
If your family likes to bake Christmas cookies or celebrate Thanksgiving with homemade pies, come up with new traditions that don’t involve sweets. Play games together, put on a show or concert, do jigsaw puzzles, go on family walks, or watch movies instead.
You can also whip up goodies that are made with low-sucrose ingredients your child can digest easily. And those can become part of your family tradition, too!
9. Keep CSID-safe foods handy. Stock the fridge and pantry with plenty of foods and snacks that children can grab and go when they’re hungry. And make sure they have a lot of choices.
“Research shows time and time again that when kids get to make their own decisions regarding food, they’re more prone to actually eat those foods,” says Gallagher.
10. Enjoy low-sucrose family meals. Rather than making special meals for your child — which could cause feelings of isolation and self-consciousness about having CSID — enjoy low-sucrose meals as a family.
“It benefits the child when the whole family is eating [the same food]. That way, the child feels completely normal,” says Gallagher.