This week (January 18-24) is Sugar Awareness Week. As a parent, I always feel like I’m fighting a losing battle with sugar. I’ve heard all the advice about limiting sugar. I’ve witnessed how sugar affects children from the crazy high to the inevitable crash.
Sugar can do so much damage to the human body – adult and child alike. The following are truly just a few things:
- Impairs Memory and Learning Skills – Studies have shown that a diet high in sugar can slow down the brain hindering memory and learning skills. Sugary breakfast cereal may not be the best start for a child spending his day learning multiplication and division. Or maybe this is the reason why I feel like a broken record in reminding my child to turn in his homework or remember his jacket, etc.
- Increases Tooth Decay and Cavities – Sugar is the most damaging substance for teeth that we are eating. When sugar sits on your teeth, it creates decay more efficiently than any other food. This is because it provides easily digestible energy for all the bad bacteria living in the mouth. And since we know that children sometimes are not the best brushers, it’s important to limit how much sugar is introduced to their teeth.
- Contributes to Malnutrition – Despite the fact that a high sugar diet contributes to obesity, children can still be malnourished. Sugar provides no nutritional value whatsoever, but just pure energy. When children fill up on these “empty” calories, they are not likely to get all the important vitamins and minerals they need leading to nutrient deficiencies.
- Lowers Immunities – The body is made up of trillions of good bacteria, which help digest food, produce vitamins and protect the body from germs and diseases. But, consuming too much sugar can alter the balance between good and bad bacteria weakening the immune system. For children, this can lead to chronic runny noses, excessive mucus, cough, sinus infections, croup and acid reflux.
- Causes Obesity – Sugar itself doesn’t cause children to become overweight, but they become overweight when they consume more calories than they burn. Sugary drinks and other high sugar treats usually supply more calories than children need to satisfy hunger.
- Effects Behavior – Many studies have shown that sugar does NOT cause hyperactivity overall. However, sugar meltdowns are real. The post-birthday-cake meltdown is caused by the rapid increase in blood sugar, followed by the inevitable drop.
There are several things that parents can do to help fight the sugar battle:
- Read food labels – Sometimes sugar is hidden in foods you wouldn’t think contain sugar like oatmeal and yogurt. Look for words and phrases that signal a food has added sugar, such as: “fruit juice concentrate”; “corn sweetener”; “corn syrup”; “high-fructose corn syrup”; “honey” and “dextrose”. Avoid foods that have a long list of ingredients.
- Know the names of sugar – Food can be really sneaky with the words used to name sugar. Watch out for high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, dextrose, lactose, sorbital, mannitol, malitol, xylitol, honey and sucrose. All of these are sugar.
- Cut down on sugar beverages – Sodas, juices (even 100% juice), sports drinks and smoothies all contain high amounts of sugar. Have your child start with a glass of water before drinking something else, and try to avoid the high sugar drinks altogether.
- Be leery of healthy alternatives – Phrases like “sugar free”, “low calorie” and “all natural” can be misleading. These phrases don’t necessarily mean the food is healthier, but rather laden with additives.
- Make the change gradual – One way to make healthier changes easier on children is to do it gradually. Add in something healthy like blueberries into their weekly snacks. Or try mixing their sugary cereal with a healthy cereal until they get used to the healthier option.
- Teach children about healthy foods – You’ll want to help your children develop healthy habits that they keep for life. Help your kids understand what good foods do to your body and what bad foods do.
** Disclaimer – Not to take the place of medical advice. Always consult with your doctor about health concerns.
*** Sources: foxnews.com; parenting.com; healthyeating.sfgate.com; sheknows.com; huffingtonpost.com and centerforparentingeducation.org