Why is sugar such a problem?
- The body has no mechanism to tell our brain that it has eaten enough sugar. In prehistoric times, when our ancestors found any source of sugar, the body would tell the brain to eat large quantities in prevision of future times of starvation. This is because sugar was generally very scarce and only found in fruits, nuts and root vegetables. Thus, today’s abundant refined sugar is highly addictive, creating problems with binging, obsessing, and withdrawal. What we typically consider a “reasonable amount” is in fact already too much. Our annual sugar consumption was about 4 pounds per person in 1770 and this has risen to 168 pounds! Such an exaggerated sugar consumption is the most direct contributor to diabetes, obesity, hypertension and cholesterol – in both adults and children.
- Children in developed countries eat on average 32 teaspoons of sugar per day. Teenagers eat 42 teaspoons per day. We know that our body does best with no more than 6 to 9 teaspoons of sugar per day. When our kids eat sugar, they are not eating other healthier foods. In other words, sugar-containing foods replace other nutrient-dense foods they could be eating in their day. For this reason, sugary foods are called “empty-calories” – they fuel a generation of children that is both over-nourished but unfortunately malnourished. Our children are getting plenty of calories but inadequately small amounts of cellular nutrients such as trace minerals, vitamins, fiber and antioxidants.
- Refined sugar creates a sudden increase of blood sugar levels followed by a crash. This means that most people – and especially children – will feel euphoric and energized shortly after eating sugary foods but within 90 minutes, they will experience hypoglycemic episodes, which children experience as mood swings and fatigue.
Most parents find little time to prepare home-cooked meals. Restaurants offer “kid menus” that consist mostly of processed fish fingers, ketchup, French fries and ice-cream. Food colouring and preservatives are often found in processed foods geared at children. This fact is quite alarming in the light of recent research that has established a potential link between food additives and a number of childhood conditions, such as autism, attention-deficient disorder and eczema. These foods have become the common staple of child nutrition, while nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables are nowhere to be seen. It is time to re-evaluate what our children are eating and reverse the trend.
Here are a few tips to help you get started
- Keep a diet diary in which you record everything your child eats in one week, and daily observations regarding your child’s behavior. This will help you realize what you child is truly eating – is it mostly chocolate and sweet snacks? Is s/he getting enough vegetables? We often underestimate the proportion of processed foods our kids eat everyday diet.
- Remove all sodas and flavoured milks from your child’s diet – they are basically “liquid sugar” whose regular consumption leads to erratic blood sugar control, hyperactivity and obesity or diabetes in the long-term.
- Be a good role model! Do not eat junk foods in front of your children. Show the right example by snacking on natural unprocessed foods such as nuts and raisins, apples, or vegetable dips.
- Transition your household to “brown” unrefined carbohydrates. Avoid white pasta, white bread, white baked goods and anything made with white flour. Although white flour does not taste sweet, it contains several molecules of sugar bound together. During digestion, large amounts of sugars are released from the flour’s starch. Brown carbohydrates like brown rice, millet, buckwheat, brown pasta and unrefined cereals also contain some sugar contained in their starches – but in lesser amounts and bound to other nutritious substances like fiber and B vitamins. This makes it easier for the body to process sugar in general.
- Replace commercial baked items with home-made cakes or cookies – it is then much easier to control the amount of sugar inside and one can then encourage fruit-based treats at home. When baking at home, use unrefined flours like wholewheat flour and natural sugars like honey, apple sauce or even stevia. Use at least 50% less sugar than what most conventional recipes would suggest wherever possible. Most of us – adults included – are addicted to sugar. This means that we will go through withdrawal when trying to reduce sugar in our lives. This is a normal part of the process. It will take some work before children accept a diet that contains fewere processed starches and sugary items.
- Work with your child to discourage sugar-laden ‘goodie bags’ at birthday parties – replace the “goodies” with stationary, stickers, balloons or other fun non-edible items.
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Mirko is for people who knows him well a true motivator and inspirer. He has been the driving force in projects such as a wellness center in Thailand, a corporate on-line travel agency and membership club with over 120,000 members worldwide. Mirko has created a strong professional reputation as one of the leaders in the hospitality and fitness & recreation industries.