Taming your Sugar Monster

If your children are like most children, they can’t eat enough sugary foods such as cookies, cakes, candy and pop. The sweeter and the gooier the treats, the more they like them! Unfortunately, most of these foods are made from refined sugars and flours that are some of the root causes of childhood obesity, immune system suppression, dental cavities and mood fluctuations. But, there is some good news. You do not need to eliminate all sweets from your children’s diet. There is a way to tame your sugar monster with natural approaches to eating. Read on!

What’s Out!
Before introducing healthier sweet treats into your child’s diet, let’s examine where and how refined sugar is “sneaking in” to their food. Sugar consumption is now at an all time high. As a nation, the consumption of candy has increased by 50 percent between 1980 and 1995. In addition, soft drink consumption has doubled in the past 25 years. On average, children consume 20 percent of their total calories from sugar – this translates to 29 teaspoons of added refined sugar per day!

One of the major issues with the high amount of sugar consumption is that children are filling up on empty calories, leaving little room for optimal nutritious benefits derived from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. In fact, a research study at Tulane University reported that children who consumed high amounts of sugar ate significantly lower amounts of protein, vitamin E, B vitamins, iron and zinc. In order to curb this sugar trend, it is important to become a label reader. The culprit you want to watch for on labels is “added sugars”. Added sugars are not the same as naturally occurring sugars found in fruits or dairy products. Manufacturers add them to sodas, fruit drinks, desserts and candy. To identify added sugars, check if the first or second ingredients on labels include the words glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, turbinado, honey or brown sugar. These are products that are filled to the brim with sugar. As a general rule, processed and packaged foods such as cereals, granola bars and even fruit-bottom yogurts are often packed with an abundant amount of sugar. A rule of thumb to follow is: four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon of sugar.

What’s In!
The key to keeping sweet treats in your children’s diet is to add foods that have naturally occurring sugars in them such as fruits and dairy products. Examples are:

• Purchase plain yogurt and add fruit such as blueberries, raspberries or strawberries for added sweetness. Plain yogurt is twice as high in protein content and low in added sugars.

• Keep cut-up fruits readily available in your home as healthy snacks that are easy to grab.

• If your children drink juice, have 100% fruit juice available in your fridge and avoid fruity beverages filled with sugar.

• Do not keep pop/soda in the house - it is too tempting for your child! Instead, encourage your child to drink distilled water or watered down juice.

• Use spices to sweeten food instead of sugar. Spices such as cinnamon, vanilla and spearmint add a wonderful flavour to baking without the extra sugar or calories.

Learning to Balance
I am a firm believer that you do not want to be overly-strict with your children’s diet or it will come back to bite you! It is best to allow your children to have the occasional indulgence so they do not feel deprived of treats. At Truestar, we recommend the 80-20 rule of eating. In other words, have your children eat healthily 80 % of the time (at home, when packing lunches) and do not stress out if they fall off the health wagon 20 % of the time (at birthday parties, Halloween etc.). Remember, kids engage in “monkey see, monkey do” behaviour. In order for healthy eating, an active lifestyle and optimal health and wellness to flourish, they should become a family affair for all!