Too Much Sugar - How Bad?

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Well, okay, maybe just one... Photo courtesy of Stockexpert.com.

I used to think of our home as a "low sugar" household. Then recently, we had visitors -- dear friends from the other coast who apparently truly do have a low sugar household. I know this because their kids were downright giddy at all the snacks and treats I'd convinced myself were okay, like organic fruit leather and 100% fruit juice. Their visit really highlighted for me how much sugar our kids are sucking down every day, and it's a lot.

I used to think of our home as a "low sugar" household. Then recently, we had visitors -- dear friends from the other coast who apparently truly do have a low sugar household. I know this because their kids were downright giddy at all the snacks and treats I'd convinced myself were okay, like organic fruit leather and 100% fruit juice. Their visit really highlighted for me how much sugar our kids are sucking down every day, and it's a lot.

Lunch dessert, dinner dessert...and did I mention the occasional "I'll give you a cookie if you get in the car quickly" bribe? I called Mommy Advisor Christine M. Palumbo, R.D., a nutritionist in private practice in a Chicago suburb who is an adjunct faculty member at Benedictine University, to find out how bad all this sugarification is for my kids. How much is too much? How bad?

"It's bad," she said. "All that dessert is setting them up for bad food habits throughout their lives. And where there's sugar, there's fat," she added, before pointing out that I probably was unaware of all the sugar I was giving my kids that's hiding in foods we usually don't think of as "treats" like bread, and spaghetti sauce.

While we were talking, I drifted into the kitchen and squinted at the label on my bread. There it was: High Fructose Corn Syrup. Ach--stress! Here are Palumbo's tips for keeping the sugar-level lower in your home, for real: Redefine dessert. Apparently having your children peer into the freezer and forage for treats after dinner is not ideal. Palumbo suggests we instead serve a dessert of our choosing, like yogurt with fruit, a pretty bowl of berries, a poached pear -- basically fruit instead of anything from the chocolate food group, at least for lunch. "Try berries and a tiny dollop of whipped cream in a beautiful plastic cocktail glass. A lot of the thrill of dessert is in the packaging," she points out.

Be aware of portions. Palumbo points out that cookies used to be small and now are often "the size of a baby's head." (I recently asked a bakery for a cookie after lunch and felt rather mortified when they brought over a cookie the size of my head). A kid-size portion of ice-cream is a quarter-cup. Cookies should be small.

If you can, make your own. If you're baking your own cookies you can reduce the sugar and add nutritional value by adding in nuts (if your child can eat them) or oat flour which slows the absorption of sugar.

Make water fun. Palumbo recommends no more than one serving of juice a day. To make water fun, float strawberry or cucumber slices in it, or have a fun water bottle that's only allowed to hold water.

Beware of hiding sugar. Look at the labels for hidden sugars, which Palumbo tells me can be disguised as: "high fructose corn syrup, beet sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, honey, maltodextrin,molasass, sucrose, turbinado sugar, agave nectar..." I have to say I was surprised at some of the items in my pantry that contained these.

Don't use treats as a reward. Oh c'mon! Please? No says Palumbo. Don't go there. "It sets them up for reaching for "comfort foods" when they feel like they need comfort throughout their lives. This is why I'm not big on having dessert with every meal because you don't want to punish by withholding dessert and you don't want to reward by offering dessert." (Note to self: bad!)

So, answer the question: Too much sugar -- how bad? "It's bad," Palumbo says. "I would say, too much sugar during the day is a 7 or an 8 out of 10 because it leads to dental issues and because sugar usually comes packaged with fat, you're setting up your kids for bad habits." Making some changes in the kitchen...

If you've committed a parenting crime and you want to know, How Bad? Send it to PrincessLvsPink@Gmail.com and you might find out.

Sabrina Weill is editor-in-chief of PrincessLovesPink.com.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.