Sunday, June 26, 2011

Not a little bit of sugar

Following my previous post about nutrition, I thought it would be in place to write a bit more extensively about the excessive consumption of sugar I see around every day.

During the time I studied for my degree in nutrition, we were told, of course, that sugar is unhealthy, that it is “empty calories” and that we should minimize its consumption. However, I believe it wasn’t emphasized enough just how much havoc sugar wrecks within our systems, nor how strictly it should be limited especially in children and teenagers. A lot more hours were dedicated to scary propaganda against natural products such as eggs and butter, whose saturated fat and cholesterol, as we were told, cause heart disease and diabetes.

Recently, a mother of an overweight child, while discussing the child’s nutrition with me, asked me whether it’s alright to give her daughter one egg per day, or whether eggs should be limited to three per week to avoid excess fat and cholesterol consumption. At the same time, she showed little to no concern about the fact that the child consumed candy as usual between-meals fare. I told her that I see absolutely no way that a normal active child would be overweight on good hearty satisfying foods, and advised her instead to eliminate all the anti-nutritious junk, without touching natural, wholesome, unprocessed food such as eggs, which contain valuable protein and fat-soluble vitamins. I explained to her that low-fat diets are harmful to children, not to mention that they do not satisfy the hunger and therefore lead us to eating more.

When I look at supermarket shelves and at stuff that makes its way into people’s shopping carts, and eventually onto their tables, I am horrified by the sheer amount of added refined sugar, especially and particularly in products aimed at children. And I’m not even talking about the price of all this colorful junk.

I see preschoolers returning home, and nearly the first thing their parents do is stick into their hands a bag of chips or a popsicle. Parents are essentially making their children used to eating a lot of sugar, and then complain they eat nothing but sweets. The consumption of such zero-nutrition junk comes at the expense of other, healthier snacks that a child could be eating at that time, for example fruit or assorted vegetable sticks with a cream cheese or tahina dip. The damage it does to children at the peak of their growth and development, when they are in such need of extra nutrients, can hardly be overestimated.

I’m not saying we never eat refined sugar in our home. But when I bake, for example, I try to reduce the amount of sugar in cakes and cookies to the minimal level which would still be palatable. If you try to do the same thing, you will eventually see that commercial products become too sweet for your taste. I also try to make my baked goods as nutritious as possible, to make up for the sugar addition, and go for things like carrot cake and oatmeal cookies, and that only occasionally.

Perhaps the preparation of healthy meals and snacks takes a bit more time, but it’s so worth it when it comes to the well-being of our families. 


Nea said...

Oh you are so right! Inspired by your bakings, I've started to reduce the amount of sugar in my own cakes etc., and now, after a year or so, we do find most store brought cakes way too sweet to our taste.

I also try to replace sugar with honey when possible. Ofcourse it costs more than sugar, but I've also tried not to bake that often...

Jo said...

I make my own bread and only add limited sugar and salt and what a differences to commercial bread. You don't realize how much sugar and salt are in bread until you make your own. It also doesn't toast as fast due to the limited sugar content, but that is ok.

emily said...

Gosh, where did you study? It doesn't sound like you followed a very good curriculum! My high school classes in home economics and biology taught sound basic stuff about nutrition.

Personally, I'm not keen on being too strict about sugar consumption in children, because it can backfire and lead to them going overboard on the 'forbidden fruit' as soon as they leave home and/or have access to personal funds to buy whatever they want.

I think balance is the key and firmly believe that, if you start early enough and involve children in cooking and making healthy snacks for the family, that they will learn to self-regulate for themselves when they are older.

I had a funny experience with my niece when she was just 5 years old. She was very bright and loved to learn about the nutritional values of foods and how they related to bodily function (in very simple terms, eg calcium for strong bones, vitamins for shiny hair and sparkly eyes, etc. She was happily loading up our shopping basket with leafy vegetables one day, when an elderly lady came up to us and exclaimed "My Goodness, little girls aren't supposed to like cabbage!" She beamed innocently and replied, "Well they are full of antioxidants and if you tried them you might not have such a wrinkly old face!".... I didn't know where to look and our 'curriculum' for the rest of the day focused on good manners and respect....!

Carol said...

When my children were young I did a little research on sugar. In 1880 Sweden had statistics on the use of refined sugar. Total for one family was ONE pound per FAMILY per year. In the 1990s it was something like FIFTY pounds per person per year!

When the body metabolizes refined sugar it has to use the body's supply of B vitamins to digest the sugar. The B vitamins are stress vitamins.

The natural sugar in fruit is accompanied by vitamins and minerals.

We help children grow, avoid excess weight and cope with stress by minimizing refined sugar.

Anonymous said...

I studied about parenteral nutrition in my pharmacy curriculum and certainly did not find anything to advocate excessive addition of extra empty calories!!

In fact, over the past 30 years, because in my husband's cultural background and society, sugar production is not subsidized by the government, instead favoring use of the neighborhood farm products, he found American cuisine much too oily, greasy, heavy, salty, and extremely sugary sweet and not including nearly enough less processed foods, nor basic ingredients.

Many people think the Japanese diet is 'exotic', but the typical diet used to consist of very simple elements: vegetables, fruits, tea and water, rice, and seafood, and not spicy at all.

One of the first things he taught me in cooking was to prepare much less food than I was used to for my family in my parent's house, and then, to alter recipes as DF suggested; minimal sugar in the pastries, no solid or visible fat on meats, freshness as much as possible. Avoid fatty cheese! It was a significantly different way from my childhood.

On the other hand, there are many differences in genetic diseases between my husband and my native cultures. My husband lived in an extended family with generations at home. At 80, Granny was still riding her bicycle to the store down the street with her grandson on her back, and sitting cross-legged on the floor to sit closer to his face. My husband said he had no idea what arthritis was until he came to the US and saw so many elderly with the symptoms.

Consuming too much processed sugar all at once, puts a strain on hormone replacement, a sort of glucose intolerance to the dramatic change of an energy glut is my humble opinion.

Nea said...

Just a sidenote to Jo: you can bake an exellent bread totally without sugar! It will rise just beautifully even without it. You can even have a light sugary taste, if you bake your bread long enough so that the crust gets quite dark (not burned!).

Laree said...

Just wondering if you have sat down and watched the lecture entitled "Sugar: the bitter truth"? It is available on Youtube. It is quite scholastic, but with your background I think you will find it fortifying.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Laree, thank you so much for this tip-off. I will watch the lecture as time allows.