Information Huddle

Bittersweet Truths About Sugar

Sugar and sweeteners are everywhere. Sugar is like a drug: it certainly feels addictive when that particular time of day rolls around; for me it’s mid-afternoon and late evening when Jai is asleep. I just have to have something sweet to appease that craving and sometimes one piece of candy will not do. Funny enough, during other times of the day, I could pass by the stuff and not think anything about it.

Plenty of popular Western culture references stems from binging on sugar: from ice cream for heartache to characters with massive sweet tooths.

Women are courted by advertisers to buy chocolate during their menses. Children are bombarded with sugary cereals and treats during their favorite TV shows or mobile games. Men get advertisements for carbonated drinks to help boost their competitive abilities.

There is a clear bias for the stuff. And it makes sense given the narrative: it boosts brainpower, gives you energy, makes you feel good, and is all around amazing. In fact, the idea of going without sugar is one met with disbelief. Go ahead and tell someone that you plan to drop sugar. You’ll get one of these responses:

  • Really? I could never do that. I love the stuff too much.
  • Oh, [Someone’s name] did that awhile ago. She didn’t last 24 hours before caving in.
  • How will you survive without [insert your favorite beverage/treat of choice]?
  • Why? Do you think you need to lose weight?
  • We’ll see how long that lasts. I bet you’ll be back to eating it within a week.
  • Just as long as you don’t get all smug and preachy over it…

Many responses revolve around the narrative that we, as human beings, cannot live without sugar. And the truth is, Western diet is high in sugarcane (or some version of sweetener). So it’s understandable that the idea of dropping something so pervasive in our diet is out of the ordinary.

I watched this video in preparation of today’s post and it sums up the issues we face as consumers of sugar in the Western diet…

Sugar and the Adult

Some highlights of his video (I will link outside sources):

Although this is a fascinating article about using sugar as an energy source for a lithium battery. So sugar isn’t entirely bad for humans if it helps solve energy issues.

When I add sugar to my diet – I am adding that sugar on top of sugar that’s already there. That’s a hard truth to hear especially when I’ve tried, in the past, to make healthier eating choices by going “low-fat” or even “gluten-free.” Turns out I was trading one “bad” eating habit for another.

Despite what we are told and what we tell ourselves, sugar is not an energy booster. Technically, it does boost your energy, but it’s such a temporary boost that you gain almost nothing from it except calories and a desire to consume more. Sugar does not boost brainpower (though your brain does need it to function), it can contribute to mental health issues, and sugar cravings could be a sign of a bigger issue.

Let me be clear – I am not saying that if you enjoy a bit of sugar now-and-then that you should feel bad about it. There is something to be said about eating in moderation. It’s just being aware of how that moderation should look if you want to be serious about it. The purpose of this post is to explain how problematic it is in our diets and how insidious it is given that it can be hidden in everything.

So what will it look like when ditching sugar?

Dropping Sugar and the Adult

Some of the anticipated, long-term benefits of dropping sugar:

Other people have experienced positive outcomes from dropping sugar in their diets. Others have not, so it really is a matter of “your milage may vary.” If you tried quitting it and found it absolutely did not work for you – consider stepping back some of your personal goals. I think the whole act of being aware of your consumption and making an attempt towards long-term changes can be more meaningful than doing nothing at all.

Now I am not going to go to the same extreme as “I Quit Sugar,” nor do I necessarily advocate it as a means to beat the habit.

What I am doing is dropping sugarcane and any refined sugars. I love me some serious fruit (it’s all I craved during my pregnancy) and I love me some chocolate. If I can find things sweetened with fruit (some raw chocolate bars can do the trick), then I will be happy. Maybe someday I will drop all forms of sweets for a time to see how I do. Maybe.

Sugar and the Child

Children have a completely different physiological make up (I feel like a “no, duh” should be added in here) than us adults and therefore sugar affects the little ones differently. The major concern for healthcare professionals is childhood obesity.

Excessive sugar consumption in children has been attributed to:

These are just to name a few – but it’s a similar picture: the less refined sugar a little one has, the better off they will be in the long run. Many health campaigns for children discuss cutting sugar or finding alternatives to sweets for children’s diets to help manage healthy habits.

These sorts of campaigns do feel Sisyphean when reading about how sugar is in everything. The ultimate goal is to begin the process of developing good habits for your child by setting an example with your diet. Children mimic what they are exposed to and if they see that you aren’t reaching for that piece of chocolate after every meal, they are less likely to do it themselves. That’s why I want to drop sugar for myself since I am more addicted to it than Ash, since Jai is going to be spending the most amount of time with me, I have to model habits that I want him to pick up and that’s eating less sugar (not having it in the house is also a good method, too).

Obviously, like with anything in life, there are outliers. There are some children who are relatively unaffected when consuming sugar in moderate to massive amounts.

Dropping Sugar and the Child

The New York Times did a story on the benefits for children when excess sugar was removed from their diet:

On average, the subjects’ LDL cholesterol, the kind implicated in heart disease, fell by 10 points. Their diastolic blood pressure fell five points. Their triglycerides, a type of fat that travels in the blood and contributes to heart disease, dropped 33 points. And their fasting blood sugar and insulin levels – indicators of their diabetes risk – likewise markedly improved. – Cutting Sugar Improved Children’s Health in Just 10 Days

But if you have a little one that’s already been exposed to excessive amounts of sugar, it’s rather hard to find a way to break them of that habit.

Live Simply Natural has great tips on how to help break a little one’s sugar habits:

  1. Lead by example
  2. Start early
  3. Focus on health
  4. Allow freedom of choice
  5. Teach them to listen to their bodies
  6. Investigate labels
  7. Prepare meals as a family
  8. Create a sugar-free home
  9. Push for produce
  10. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail*

*Make sure to click on the above link for a more detailed description for each point.

All of these points are common sense, but hard to implement all at once. I would recommend doing a little at a time. Making a major shift, especially for a little addict, would be too much and met with resistance. Try detoxing from sugar yourself first so you understand what they are about to go through and be a more effective guide to their needs and feelings. And patience. Being a parent requires so much patience.

Other than what I found from the NYT article, there aren’t as many articles available regarding what happens to children when they stop eating sugar. I can imagine that you  reverse the negative impacts sugar has on little bodies such as: lowering their chance of childhood obesity, lowering their chance of getting diabetes, regulate their hyperactivity, regulate their mood swings, increase brain development, and lower their chances of getting cavities.

Full-on sugar stoppage may not be feasible for your family, but being aware of the amount of sugar in each meal/snack can help limit going above the daily allowance for your little one. It’s 25-37 grams for those keeping track at home. And it’s really easy to hit that allowance quick before lunchtime.

Consensus

Whatever decision you make for you and your family is what matters most – you have to do what you believe to be correct. If continuing forward with sugar consumption seems fine, so be it; if limiting consumption, fine; if eliminating it completely, that’s what is right for you. Like with any sorts of diet or lifestyle changes, your experience may vary from mine and from another person’s and that’s okay. Consult a medical professional if you are at all concerned about how it might affect your health (or that of your family’s). There’s no reason to be discouraged if it doesn’t work out for you, the timing may not be right and it will succeed the next time you try.

I know that in previous diet shifts my motivation wasn’t strong enough. I feel like because I am doing this for my MS, myself, and my son that my motivation is much higher and I’ll have a higher degree of success. That’s the hope.

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