Sugar and Our Children…What’s the Deal?

We are in the midst of a serious health crisis. The number of obese and diabetic Americans has skyrocketed in the past 30 years. And, to make this statistic even more shocking, it’s affecting our children at even higher rates!

Recent statistics show:

  • 25.8 million Americans, or 8.3% of the population, have diabetes.
  • More than 13,000 children are diagnosed with diabetes each year.
  • Every single state has an obesity rate over 20%…that means one in five Americans is obese!
  • we eat more sugar than broccoli

  • One in three children, approximately 35%, is overweight
  • Today, the average child is consuming 32 teaspoons of sugar per day. The USDA recommends we eat no more than 10 teaspoons of sugar per day.
  • Americans consume 150 pounds of sugar per year! (We only eat 8 pounds of broccoli per year!)

As a society we are consuming way too much sugar – levels that are indeed having a toxic effect on our health.

 

Understanding sugar

Let’s take a moment to understand how sugar affects our bodies. So, very briefly….All carbohydrates contain sugar. But depending on their chemical structure, simple or complex, our body processes them differently.

Most simple carbohydrates are highly processed and contain refined sugars with very few vitamins and minerals. This means simply that after we consume processed foods our energy levels will increase rapidly and then come crashing down very quickly. Our bodies will begin to crave sugar because now we are feeling tired, may have a headache or are having trouble concentrating. This roller coaster of shifts in blood sugar levels will go on and on because our bodies are always looking to create balance.

Complex carbohydrates, those that appear in nature such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains, have a completely different effect on our bodies than those that are processed or include refined sugars. Because fruits and vegetables contain fiber which helps to slow digestion, the sugar they contain is absorbed into our bloodstream at a slower rate. This results in long-lasting energy and fewer ups and downs, so your body will experience less sugar cravings.

 

Has your child demonstrated sugar cravings?

Here is a list of some of the potential effects on children’s bodies when they consume too much sugar:

  • Crash of energy shortly after a sugary meal or snack
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Inability to focus/concentrate
  • Weight gain
  • Excitability

In addition, high levels of sugar consumptions can cause or contribute to the following medical conditions:

  • Suppressed immune system
  • Weakened eyesight
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Mal-absorption of calcium and magnesium
  • Increase in cholesterol levels
  • Hyperglycemia

 

How do we reduce the amount of sugar our children are eating?

The following are ways to limit sugar intake:

  • Read food labels: The nutrition label on some of your favorite foods might sound like a foreign language, but it’s helpful to know which words and phrases mean added sugar. The nutrition label lists ingredients in order, from the predominant ingredient, the first one mentioned, to the least dominant, the last one mentioned.

     
    Look for words and phrases such as “fruit juice concentrate,” “corn sweetener,” “corn syrup,” “high-fructose corn syrup,” “honey” and “dextrose,” which signal that the food has added sugar. Sugar is usually added to foods such as breakfast cereal to make them more palatable, but you will also find it in canned vegetables, baby food, cereals, peanut butter, bread, and tomato sauce.

    It is good practice to try to avoid any foods that have a long list of ingredients. Keep it simple.

  • Know the many names of sugar: The most common are high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, dextrose, lactose, sorbital, mannitol, malitol, xylitol, honey, sucrose. Being an informed consumer is the best way to make better nutritional food choices for you and your family.
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  • Add in sweet vegetables: Rather than depending on processed sugar to satisfy cravings, add naturally sweet foods to your daily diet to satisfy your sweet tooth. Sweet vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, corn and squash are rich in nutrients, low in fat and calories and are inexpensive. Plus, these vegetables are readily available throughout the year. Adding in sweet vegetables helps to crowd out less healthy foods in the diet.
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  • Have your children drink more water: Often times when we are craving sugar, it is not because we are hungry, but rather it’s about being thirsty. Most Americans are chronically dehydrated.
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  • Be an informed consumer…your life depends on it: Even some so-called healthy foods contain sugar. For example a lemon poppy seed Clif Bar has 21 grams of sugar or 5 teaspoons. Compare that to a chocolate-glazed donut, which has 14 grams of sugar or 3 teaspoons!

 

Putting it together

It is the small strategic changes that we make in our food choices that will have the most powerful impact on our overall health and wellness in the long run. Food is powerful and can change everything! We all eat several times a day. If we feed our children the right foods in the right combinations, their long-term risk of food-related chronic illnesses will be greatly reduced.

The more whole foods that are put into your family’s daily diet, the less room there will be for processed and refined food products. As more and more healthy foods are introduced into the diet, the less likely your child’s body will crave sugar.

Remember…stay away from simple carbohydrates, those products that contain processed and refined sugars. Instead, opt for the complex carbohydrates, food that is not processed or refined, such as fruits and vegetables. Add lots of water to your children’s diet and read food labels.

Most importantly, incorporate these healthy changes step-by-step, without deprivation or being overwhelmed, and you will absolutely see sugar cravings decrease and your children’s overall wellness increase.

Laurie Hoffmann
Health and Wellness Coach
Empower Through Nutrition
 
 

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