Glow Nutriton | Health

Sugar, the good, bad and ugly.

Glow KidsGisela RouxComment

Sugar, can be good?  Or is it just bad and ugly?  Yes, it can be good!  Admit how yummy a Lindt chocolate taste to a piece of dark chocolate cake!  Yes, and you can even indulge in that Lindt chocolate, once in a while, but not on a frequent basis!

So what about all the bad and ugly we hear about sugar then?  I believe that "too much of a good thing is not good anymore".  And that is true for sugar as well.  Being the mom of a lovely, busy and active boy who loves anything sugar, I asked questions about the whole sugar thing.  What about sugar and learning, and about sugar and health?  Should I just let him avoid all sugar or not?

This is real questions, we all ask ourselves.  I'm going to share some information that is scientific and food for thought.

Did you know babies are born preferring sweet tastes, and often their introduction to solid food begins with the sweetness of fruits or grains. It’s no wonder that as they grow, most kids love sugary snacks and drinks. An occasional sweet treat probably won’t do any harm, but many children eat far too much sugar each day, setting them up for health problems now and in the future. 

First let's understand, what is sugar?  

Sugar is a type carbohydrate that adds sweetness to food and drinks.   White sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave and corn syrup are all forms of sugar.

Sugar is added to lots of  food and drinks like desserts, pop, some breakfast cereals and yogurts, energy drinks, fruit drinks, and chocolate milk. But remember sugar is also found naturally in fruit, vegetables and milk.

Are all sugars the same?  Yes. Raw sugar and honey, for example, are not more nutritious than white sugar. So don't be fooled by product claims of natural coconut sugar or agave etc.  All sugars, whether they are naturally found in food or added to food, are digested in the same way. However, it is best to choose foods with naturally occurring sugars most often.  Fruit, vegetables and milk are nutritious and have important vitamins and minerals.

But too much sugar can cause some health problems in kids.  It can cause tooth decay, obesity (and we all know the huge problem it is today!), diabetes and behavioural issues.  Despite scientific studies that indicate that sugar consumption does not cause hyperactivity in children, sugar does seem to have a powerful effect on kids. When blood sugar levels rise too high, the body releases insulin, which helps it to absorb the sugar into the cells to be used as energy. This can cause blood sugar levels to drop rapidly, leaving children feeling shaky, irritable with low attention and can be hyper,  craving more sweets.  Available evidence in humans shows that sugar and sweetness can induce reward and craving that are comparable in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs.  So, yes, sugar cause the same type of cravings as drugs in the brain!   Recent experimental research on sugar and sweet reward in laboratory rats, revealed that sugar and sweet reward can not only substitute to addictive drugs, like cocaine, but can even be more rewarding and attractive.

So, yes limit the amount of sugar your child ingest.  In 2009, citing the evidence of the relationship between the intake of sugars and cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association (AHA) published new guidelines setting limits on the amount of added sugar acceptable for a healthy diet. Depending on their caloric intakes, children should consume no more than three-to-eight teaspoons of added sugar per day. Unfortunately, according to another study done by the AHA, children as young as 1 to 3 years old already consumed about 12 teaspoons of sugar per day, and older children consumed even more than that!

So, how can I limit my child's sugar intake?

  1. Limit juice drinks.  Sweetened beverages, including soft drinks, fruit drinks or fruitades, are the largest source of added sugar in the daily diets.
  2. Cut out sports drinks.  Kids don't need anything but plain water to drink while participating in sports.
  3. Swap out sugary treats for healthy foods.  Gradually replace sugary snacks with healthier choices -- fruits instead of cookies, 100 percent juice bars (with no added sugar) instead of ice cream, and so on.
  4. Control portions.  Prevent sugar spikes and drops by keeping portions of sugary foods or drinks small, choosing low-sugar or sugar-free snacks and drinks, and encouraging your child to eat food that contains protein and fiber along with his or her sweet treats. Some good protein choices include beans, lean meats or nuts. Whole grains, fruits and veggies are good sources of fiber. Don't forbid all sweets all the time. This may cause a child to binge when he or she is offered something sugary.

The bottom line is healthy eating for children can include some sugar, 3-8 teaspoons per day.  Small amounts of added sugar brings enjoyment to eating. Foods with naturally occurring sugars like fruit are nutritious and offer health benefits.  Offer meals and snacks that include healthy foods low in added sugars.  With a little creativity, there are many ways to help your child enjoy healthy eating with less sugar.  In my next blog, I will give some more practical ideas for you!  So just hang it there, till next time!