Let’s talk sugar. And not the smooches that your grandmother gives you. Did you know that we are all predisposed to be attracted to sweet things? As infants, when we develop taste, sweetness is the first thing we develop. And we like it. This is why breastmilk and formula are sweet. Babies are attracted to it. When I worked in the hospital setting I used to give infants “sweet-ease”. A sugar water solution that calms them down because it was even sweeter than breastmilk. This sweet flavor calmed the babies down so much we were able to proceed with whatever procedure we needed. If sugar does such a great job of soothing us, and it’s an evolutionary trait to like sweet things, why does sugar get such a bad rap?
In a simple answer: natural versus added. Sugar found in fruits and vegetables, are usually attached to vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Fiber, also found in whole grains, can actually prevent blood sugar from spiking. Whereas added sugar, which is added to processed foods like soda, grain-based desserts, etc. have higher calories and low nutritional value. And in the absence of fiber, actually cause your blood glucose to rise. You also tend to eat more of these foods because without the fiber to signal that you’re full you keep indulging. Added sugar in our food is one of the biggest contributors to type 2 diabetes.
Now a few staggering statistics for you:
- Over 13,000 children are diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes (previously known as Adult Onset Diabetes) annually.
- An estimated 43 million preschool children (under 5) are overweight or obese. This is a 60% increase since 1990
- The average child consumes 32 teaspoons of sugar a day.
- Americans consume 150 POUNDS of sugar a year!
How, as parents and consumers, can we decrease the amount of sugar we consume? The simple answer given by most health practitioners is: eat more fruit and vegetables and less processed food. And yes, this is true. But as any parent of young children knows, this isn’t always realistic. Sometimes prepackaged food is just easier.
This is the first year that I have to pack lunch for my son. He gets to stay for lunch bunch one day a week. Now, at the beginning of the year I envisioned that I would pack his little bento box with fresh fruit and vegetables. He would come home, SO HEALTHY, with a smile on his face and a full stomach. As all the seasoned mothers out there are now laughing at me, let me tell you, I had a reality check. Yes, he still gets fruits and vegetables in his box. But, he also gets prepackaged hummus, and dried fruit from Trader Joes. Why? Because it is a million times easier to grab a package of food and throw it in the lunch box on the way out the door, than it is to perfect the 100% organic, non-GMO, no sugar, high-protein, only good fats idea I had in my head.
If you’re still with me, keep reading! Here comes some tips and knowledge bombs on how to keep added sugar out of your home, and out of your child’s lunchbox:
- Avoid flavored yogurt. Add your own fruit/honeys
- Limit juice or water it down
- Instead of packaged snacks, opt for fresh fruit.
- If you do give packaged snack, read the ingredients to check for added sugar.
- Dried fruit instead of candy or gummy snacks
- Watch for added sugar in salty foods, opt for dried chickpeas or mixed nuts
- Keep a balance of fresh and packaged (offer a fresh fruit or vegetable with some crackers or prepackaged food)
- Make your own sauces and dressing, when able
The biggest take away is this: knowledge is power. Know how much sugar is in the foods that you purchase at the store. Read the labels knowing how much sugar you are recommended a day ( 24 grams for women, 36 grams for men, and less than 24 grams for children). Look in the ingredients for added sugars, especially corn sugars. Do your best.
In My Opinion:
There is TOTALLY room in you and your child’s diet for sugar and sweets. In fact, introducing sweets to your child can help teach them how to balance and learn self-control. So, don’t guilt yourself for slipping your child some m&m’s. The Switch Witch at Halloween has become really popular. And while I think that it is a great idea for getting rid of candy in the event you have a years worth of sweets from one night (not to mention a way to rid you from the temptation), I also think it’s a quick way for you to remove a possible teaching moment . Plus, enjoying the chocolate from my Halloween booty was one of the biggest thrills of my childhood. So, if you choose to dit the Switch Witch, and allow your child to have the candy they so sweetly asked for, that’s ok. I do. Offering some of the candy after a light snack after school, or dessert, won’t hurt. Let them pick the treat and then put the bag away. If they ask for more explain how sugar, while super tasty, isn’t good for them in large amounts. When we remove the choice from the child and deprive them, how do we know what choice they will make when we aren’t there? Honesty, like always, is the best route.