Sweet Tooth, Sad Truth
Sweet treats are one of the things that make the holidays special and memorable. While a desert for celebrations here and there won’t do much harm to your health, the habit of eating sugar laden snacks daily can really sabotage you and your child’s health. Limiting sugar can seem like an impossible task for parents, especially when both work outside the home. But, the amount of time and money saved from decreased doctor visits for sick children is really worth the effort. White sugar is void of nutrients and highly addictive. Most of it is produced from genetically modified beets contaminated with glysophate (round-up) and other toxins. All of these factors contribute to vitamin and mineral deficiencies in your children when they consume it regularly. Even more damaging than white sugar is high fructose corn syrup made from genetically modified corn.Unlike natural sugars in whole fruits or honey that cause your body to signal you when you’ve had enough, high fructose corn syrup messes with your bodies appetite hormone, tricking you to eat more and more of it without feeling satisfied. This causes even greater spikes of your blood sugar, thereby stressing and depleting your body. Here is a list of just a few of the damages refined sugar does to our bodies:
- Causes fermentation and putrefaction in the gut that interferes with digestion
- Causes harmful bacterial growth and feeds infection
- Causes nutrient deficiencies
- Causes calcium and other minerals to leak from the bones resulting in osteoporosis in the future
- Breaks down the immune system
- Causes your energy to crash and over the long-term results in insulin resistance and diabetes
- Causes mental disturbance, nervous disorders, anxiety and depression
- Increases cravings and is addictive
- Destroys your liver in the same way that alcohol does
- Causes inflammation and slows wound healing
- Causes heart disease and high blood pressure
- Dims vision and contributes to tooth decay
Switching to artificial sweeteners to satisfy cravings is even more hazardous than white sugar. Fake sweeteners like sucralose (also known as Splenda or sweet-n-low), aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame potassium and neotame are even more dangerous and known to cause cancer and a long list of other painful maladies. These sweeteners are present in almost all chewing gums on the market. Sugar alcohols like glucitol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, glycerol, and lactitol still raise blood sugar and cause intestinal gas and discomfort. Of the sugar alcohols, xylitol and erithrytol have the least digestive side effects and have been reported to have some dental benefits (mostly because if used instead of sugar you are removing a primary cause of tooth decay).However, these sweeteners can also make it more difficult to heal from gut disbyosis and yeast issues.
So what’s a parent to do? Do you ignore this sobering truth and cave to convenience or take some steps to protect your child from this assault to their health? Declaring that your family is giving up sweets can be grounds for mutiny. If your children are used to consuming sugar every day, it can feel like withdrawal if they don’t get their fix. Natural sugars like honey, unrefined coconut sugar, brown rice syrup, molasses, maple syrup and whole dates can still raise your blood sugar and weaken your immune system in excess, but unlike refined sugar, they provide vitamins and minerals to help your body balance your blood sugar. Honey actually provides helpful antimicrobial benefits that can be useful in fending off illness and it can be used medicinally to acclimate you to local environmental pollens in order to prevent allergies.Another sweetener that has gained interest in the natural health community is yakon syrup. It is a molasses produced from a sweet root that has many minerals and is low calorie with little impact on blood sugar levels and so has been recommended as an acceptable sweetener for diabetics. It does contain over 50% fructooligosaccharide (FOS), a carbohydrate which is a type of carbohydrate and dietary fiber which for someone who has gut dysbiosis might not be helpful. Agave is another natural sweetener that has been marketed as a better than sugar substitute, however, because it has so much concentrated fructose, it effects the body similarly to high-fructose corn syrup and is not a much healthier alternative. Any syrup containing concentrated fructose from fruit sugar is particularly challenging for the liver.
Even though it makes you feel good, sugar is not your friend. It will pay dividends if your family can learn to practice self-control in this area. Here are some helpful ideas for reducing sugar in your child’s diet
- Primarily, focus on putting good fuel in their tank before hunger drives them to look for quick energy. Seek the best quality whole foods to make home cooked meals when possible. Processed and restaurant foods often add sugar. Cook together and enjoy meals around the family table frequently.
- Check their nutrient levels and supplement with a wholefood vitamin if necessary. If they have adequate B-vitamin levels and protein their sugar cravings will be much reduced.
- Don’t be afraid of fat for children. Healthy fats from free-range grass-fed meats, wild-caughtfish, olive oil, coconut oil and other cold-pressed nut and seed oils are very important in their brain development. They are also very satiating, which will allow them to be full longer and have less desire for sugary snacks. Do avoid trans-fats and processed vegetable oils like soy, corn, cottonseed and canola (all of which are genetically modified and damaging to your health).They are inflammatory like sugar to your system.
- Avoiding sweet drinks and learning to just drink plain water is the best, but if that seems too austere for your family, try exchanging sodas and juice with sparkling water with a squeeze of fresh lemon or piece of fresh fruit. Then, instead of sweetening it with sugar, use herbal sweeteners like stevia or the Chinese fruit extract called luo han guo. These can be safe sugar substitutes that add sweetness to drinks and recipes without raising blood sugar levels or weakening your immune function. Also, try boiling cinnamon sticks in water for 15 min and taste the delicious naturally sweet tea that is made without sugar. As an additional benefit, cinnamon is high in chromium which is an essential nutrient that helps your body balance blood sugar.
- Try not to use sugar as a reward for good behavior. Earning privileges is better to avoid the association of sugar with rewards.
- Pack their school lunch and make homemade granola bars or snacks using only small amounts of honey or dates instead of store-bought packaged snacks which contain lots of sugars.
- Pick one day a week to make a special desert together as a family where you experiment with modifying the recipe to use more natural sweeteners in less amounts. I have found I can please my family’s tastes in baking and other confectionaries by switching the white sugar out with coconut sugar or honey and using only 1/3 of the amount called for in the recipe. Then I add a ½ tsp of stevia or luo han guo sweetener to make the equivalent sweetness level.
- Talk to your kids about healthy choices and tell them what your plan is to reduce sugars in your diet. Take them shopping with you and show them the food labels to help them understand what is in their food.
- Don’t freak out if they have a treat at a party or event, but give them extra Vitamin C and minerals afterward to strengthen their immune defenses.
- Expand your family’s pallet by trying new healthy, low sugar recipes. Incorporate more sour tastes and eat fermented foods like sauerkraut which are full of healthy probiotics that aid your body in digesting and recovering from excess sugar.