World over the people are talking about sugar and its ill effects on our body – some even calling it white poison! But is the hype justified? Research today is showing that it is indeed! Children today are consuming more sugar than ever before and its effects on their little bodies are indeed something of grave concern.
When we talk about sugar, we don’t just mean the white granules that we add to their milk or porridge. But the various forms of artificial sugar like fructose, dextrose, maltodextrose, inverse corn syrup etc. that we read on labels that go into most children’s foods like biscuits, sweets, chocolates, flavoured yogurts, cereals, fruit juices and even health drinks like Bournvita or Horlicks.
So why is sugar that bad?
(Here are just 4 top reasons, but the list is never ending!)
1. Sugar nullifies the effect of nutritious food
Sometimes people think that atleast by adding sugar to nutritious food, it will be more palatable for children and they will take the food. But sugar has a negative effect on the absorption of the nutrients. It produces toxins in the body which can kill cells (including brain cells) and lead to several diseases later on in life. William Duffy in his book Sugar Blues says, “Sugar is worse than nothing because it drains and leaches the body of precious vitamins and minerals through the demand its digestion, detoxification”. Therefore adding sugar (or Bournvita for that matter) into milk, really nullifies the effect of the nutrients in the milk.
2. Sugar deteriorates ones teeth
Sugar needs a certain bacteria to break it down, which produces an acid that causes cavities and other harm to ones teeth. That’s why dentists keep telling us to stop eating sweets.
3. Sugar is addictive
Adding sugar to junk food is one of the greatest addictives. Once children are hooked onto sugar, their body starts craving it and they become restless when they don’t get it. Just like any other addictive substance like nicotine, caffeine, drugs, etc. if you suddenly cut off sugar from your diet, you will immediately notice withdrawal symptoms like headaches, mood swings, and even depression.
4. Sugar and hyperactivity
Several studies have shown how sugar makes children hyperactive. There are even phrases like ‘sugar rush’ or ‘sugar high’. Even in school, one can see how children completely change after a birthday celebration of a high sugar snack like a cream cake and lollipop! So basically what a high dose of sugar does, is that it increases the blood sugar (which makes your child go wild), but then produces high amounts of insulin to bring it down, which then drastically reduces the sugar in the body and makes the child crave it more and become cranky and sluggish and can lead to many a tantrum or meltdown.
How can I reduce my child’s sugar intake?
As mentioned above, the solution is not to completely eliminate it from your child’s diet overnight, but to grandually reduce it, training the child’s mind to make healthy food choices, even when you are not around. Here are a few practical tips to do so.
- Start with the mind. Talk about the ill effects of sugar to your children. There are plenty of videos available online and books that talk about healthy vs junk food. Help them understand that you are going to start putting healthy eating into practice.
- Substitute unhealthy sugary snacks, for healthier ones like fruits, dried fruits, home made cakes (with honey or dates rather than sugar), carrots, cucumbers, etc.
- Model healthy food habits. If you or your spouse don’t like a particular food, do not make it obvious in front of your child because children quickly pick up bad food habits from their parents. Ensure the whole family eats healthy food. If you as an adult cannot keep yourself from aerated drinks or sugary pastries, atleast don’t do it in front of your children!
- Do not keep sugary snacks at home. If you buy it, your children will eat it! Always keep healthy snack options available, and if nothing else, when your children are ‘starving’, they will eat the healthy snack and will slowly start enjoying it.
- Do not use sweets and chocolates as rewards or incentives for good behaviour. This will send wrong signals to your children. On one hand you are talking about the importance of healthy eating, on the other hand, when your child does something worthy of praise or reward, you give them the very poison you are telling them is bad for their bodies!
- Aerated drinks (like pepsi, sprite, etc.) should be completely eliminated from a child’s diet. Even packaged fruit juices like Frooti or even Tropicana are full of sugar and should be avoided. If you are out at a restaurant, order fresh fruit juice and specifically ask them not to add sugar. If you’re at home, you can make fruit juice out of fresh fruits or even make a fruit milkshake.
Eating healthy is costly. It is more expensive, requires more effort and may even make you a bit unpopular! As you make some of these changes, you may find that your sugar addicted child may get upset with you and throw a few tantrums. But its definitely worth it in the long run. Soon you will find that as they get used to drinking and eating things without sugar, you will notice that they will stop liking things with too much sugar, and will naturally make healthier choices even when you are not around.