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Sweet on sugar

 

Our kids’ diets are overloaded in sugar. Here’s how you can cut back

By Edie Shaw-Ewald

Our children are being raised in a sweet environment–and I don’t mean “sweet” in a charming way. They’re exposed to sugar-laden foods and drinks everyday, starting with their breakfast. Children are offered sweet treats everywhere they turn. The majority of the processed foods that fill grocery store shelves have one or more forms of sugar and foods marketed towards kids are particularly high in sugar and there are more of these kid foods everyday.

We’re hard wired to prefer sweet foods from the time we are born. Historically, it was important for survival to prefer sweet foods as they were less likely to be poisonous plants. Today, the super-sweet foods are the poisons.

If our children frequently consume super sweet foods and liquids (pop, juices, fruit-flavoured snacks, sweetened cereals, cookies and cupcakes) their taste buds will not likely mature to appreciate the natural sweetness of whole fruits or the slightly bitter taste of some leafy greens and vegetables. This can lead to pickiness when it comes to trying new foods and the highly processed sweet foods will take the place of the healthier food that they need. They will get the calories but not enough nutrients: they will be malnourished.

What about natural occurring sugar from fruits, veggies and milk? The sugar from whole foods comes with vital nutrients that benefit our body and slow down the release of the natural sugar into our blood stream.  Whole fruits and vegetables also contain fibre that our body has to chew and digest before the sugar can get into the bloodstream. Think about how long it takes to eat an apple as opposed to drinking a cup of juice. Whole fruits and vegetables also make you feel full for much longer.

Even foods that are generally thought to be healthy such as yogurts, granola bars and the new breakfast cookies are super sweet foods. Flavoured yogurts usually have between 10 to 13 grams of sugar in a 100-gram container. A 200-mililitre yogurt drink can have between 22 and 26 grams of sugar. Some of this sugar is naturally occurring in the milk. The label doesn’t separate the naturally occurring from the added sugar.

Sugar is present in many foods that you wouldn’t expect—breads, pasta sauces, and salad dressings. A kids’ canned pasta has 9 grams of sugar in ¾ cup. Salad dressings can have almost 1 teaspoon of sugar in 1 tablespoon of dressing.

Labels list ingredients in descending order of the quantity. But consider that in many processed foods that several of the many forms of sugar may be included; sugar may actually be one of the main ingredients.

We all know that a high sugar intake is unhealthy but more studies are revealing the extent of damage sugar does to our bodies over the short and long term. The well-known long-term effects are the increase in risk of obesity, tooth decay and Type 2 diabetes. Sugar is also being implicated in many chronic conditions such as arthritis, heart disease and cancers. Children are being diagnosed with what used to be known as adult health conditions: Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. In the short term, a high sugar intake can affect moods and energy levels and can depress the immune system for hours. Low energy and sickness can affect the ability to learn and concentrate. Suddenly the future doesn’t look so sweet.

So what should we do? Explain to our kids that they need to avoid candy and cookies? Well, that could be part of the solution but let me ask you this? If you were offered fruit punch or water when you were a kid, which would you have chosen?

Take these steps to wean you and your family off of high sugar foods

Step 1:Avoid sweetened drinks: Pop, sports drinks (unless indicated by vigorous activities), juices, sweetened milk, sweetened non-dairy beverages, etc. Drink water most of the time—smoothies made with whole fruit, milk and plain yogurt are a healthy option too. For special occasions, try club soda or mineral water and add a splash of 100 per cent fruit juice.

Step 2: Break the fast without added sugar: Cereals, especially those marketed towards children, often contain lots of added sugar. Choose a cereal with less than six grams of added sugar and more than four grams of fiber. To do this gradually, mix the healthier cereals with a sprinkling of a favourite sweet cereal. Instead of flavoured instant oatmeal, cook up the plain and add cinnamon and sliced banana or berries.

Step 3: Provide fruit for snacks and desserts: If you still want cookies or muffins, bake them at home and cut down the sugar by one-third or even one-half. You won’t notice the difference in flavour.

Step 4: Become familiar with the many names of sugar: You will be able to spot them on the ingredients label.

Step 5: Remember this formula: Every 4 grams of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar*

Step 6: Speak up about sweet treats: Mention thisat your child’s school, daycare, community centres and sports teams. Don’t be afraid —you have the World Health Organization (WHO) backing you up now!

Concentrating on one single aspect of foods can sometimes blind us to the big picture. Avoid a narrow vision of just avoiding added sugar and make sure to examine your family’s diet as a whole. In the end, limiting highly processed foods and emphasizing real, whole foods is the sweetest thing a parent can do for their family!

*The World Health Organization recommends a daily maximum of 10 per cent of total calories from added sugars and proposes an ideal intake as low as 5 per cent of total calories for more health benefits. Five per cent equals 25 grams of added sugar or app. 6 tsp. per day.

The added sugars do not include sugar from unsweetened dairy or whole vegetables or fruits.

The Canadian Community Health Survey of 2004 revealed that the average Canadian consumes 110 grams of sugar a day, the equivalent of 26 teaspoons. This includes naturally occurring sugars in milk and produce.

Sugar calculator

Breakfast:

A bowl of Cheerios (¾ cup) with milk has 2 tsp (9 grams) of sugar

 1/2 cup of Five Alive juice has 3 tsp (11.5 grams) sugar.

Snack:

1 snack pack of Mini Oreos has 3 tsp (12 grams) of sugar.

That’s more than the 6-teaspsoon limit before lunch!

Edie is an In-Store Dietitian with Atlantic Superstore in Tantallon, Sackville and Elmsdale

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