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is your youngster a sugar addict?

Parents may want to put a lock on that cookie jar. Too many sweets in a child's diet may affect your child's mood - even lowering their concentration and performance at school, says Kathleen DesMaisons, an expert on addictive nutrition.

Not only can too much sugar in children's diets put them at risk for obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, but research shows sugar can become addictive and affects the brain similarly to drugs, leading to similar withdrawal symptoms of mood swings, shaking, anxiety, and anger.

Just like a drug addiction, the first step is admitting there is a problem.

"Very often parents won't make that connection of a child's behavior with sugar," DesMaisons says. "You cannot imagine the effect that it can have on your children."

DesMaisons offers some tips to healing sugar addictions:

Gradually reduce sugar intake. Don't get rid of sugar completely; but gradually get children on the path by establishing timely eating habits - three meals a day with two snacks.

Make substitutions. Pick your first target, such as sugary sodas. Replace it with water, such as offering it in playful water bottles to make it more tempting. Then, look for additional substitutions, such as offering fruit for desserts and vegetables for snacks and meals. Also, replace white breads - which are high in sugar and calories - with healthier whole-grain breads.

Ease withdrawal. If your child experiences a meltdown from lack of sugar, give him protein, such as a cheese stick or some peanut butter, to alleviate a drop in blood-sugar levels.

Be a model. Don't have a soda in your hand as you tell your child sugar is bad, DesMaisons says. Parents should model healthy food choices by monitoring their own sugar intake.

Shift focus from food to fun. DesMaisons says children often learn to associate sugar with love, such as cake for birthdays and chocolate for rewards. Instead, replace sugary rewards with spending time and playing games with your children.

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