By Sarah Wilson
My children are sweet….well, most of the time that is. And I’m sure your children are too. But if your children are anything like mine, they sure do have a sweet tooth. And one thing I have observed about my children after they have consumed a significant amount of sugar, is that their behaviour is often less than sweet. Last week I watched with curiosity the Nigel Latta documentary on the impact of sugar – ‘Is sugar the new fat?’. As Latta says ‘Sugar is utterly entrenched in our way of life, but now so is type 2 diabetes.’ We know that sugar is implicated in obesity, a crippling health crisis associated with many other poor health outcomes too, and having trained as a health psychologist, I’ve seen firsthand patients with type 2 diabetes and associated complications. In fact, type 2 diabetes may bankrupt the health system due to the cost of dialysis from renal complications. Alarmingly, the rate of hospital admissions from diabetes related complications is increasing by 10% a year in New Zealand. We know that sugar is bad news. Refined sugar represents empty calories, and there are no processes in the body that require refined sugar. In a nutshell – a little sugar in the diet is ok, alot is not.
But I should probably add a disclaimer. This post is not to condemn anyone or to tell anyone what they should be doing. It’s merely a reflection of what I would like to change in my own family. As a parent, you can often feel like parenthood is a lengthy list of do’s and don’ts. And when you have little kids you can feel very busy. Sometimes you may feel that you don’t even have time to think about what you are putting in your trolley, and you can buy things on autopilot just to get through, especially if you have several wee ones in tow at the supermarket. I know that I have often felt this way. The convenience foods are easier because they are just that – convenient.
The diagram below demonstrates how much sugar is present in popular foods that children consume. It seems that many processed foods contain more sugar than we realise. Sugar is hidden in almost all processed foods, because it is inexpensive. As a parent I’ve been fairly moderate to relaxed about the diet of my children. Some of my friends are much stricter about sugar and I admire them for that. I don’t buy sugar laden cereals, sweets or fizz, but there is always room for improvement. And the birthday parties I’ve hosted over the years? Well if I’m honest there is usually enough sugar to sink a ship and start a diabetes epidemic!
But recently I’ve wondered whether I should become stricter about my family’s intake of sugar. And so without telling the kids, I’ve changed our diet to mostly sugar-free. I haven’t bought biscuits or muesli bars and the little baking I have done over the last weeks has been sugar free, to which the kids have turned their noses up! But they have always been rather fussy, even with some baking that contains plenty of sugar. They particularly turned their noses up at the thought of a new recipe that I’d like to try – sugar-free cookies made out of chickpeas. Granted, they don’t sound too appetizing, and it may be the case of ‘Don’t tell them it’s healthy and they’ll eat it by the plateful.’ On reading this post, my husband, who has a penchant for pudding, was a little concerned that our pudding night might be omitted! But I reassured him that pudding is still on the menu once a week.
I’m also trying to change the types of snack foods that the kids consume after school and at other snack times. If we have biscuits in the house they are discovered pretty quickly, so I’m trying to opt for fruit or savoury snacks. And who knew that plain popcorn for example, contains more anti-oxidants than brocoli! My kids still have yoghurt pottles in their lunchboxes as they love youghurt, but these contain four teaspoons of sugar – eek! If I got really motivated I could make my own yoghurt with reduced sugar….
Did you know that the average New Zealander consumes 32 teaspoons of sugar per day, whereas the recommended amount is nine teaspoons per day? And it’s not just the increased incidence of diabetes in the population that is concerning. Dental health professionals say that children are having their teeth removed at an alarming rate. What alarmed me the most in this documentary was the toddler who had dental complications and needed six teeth removed, due to excessive consumption of fizzy drink. This was heartbreaking to watch. I really felt for his parents too. We can often point the finger and judge, but we don’t know their circumstances.
If you want to view ‘Is sugar the new fat?’, here is the link:http://tvnz.co.nz/nigel-latta/s1-ep6-video-6060553. The nutritionist who provided consultation to the Nigel Latta show has also written an excellent blog post to help people understand how to evaluate how much sugar is in their food, and how they can reduce sugar in their diet. Here is the link: http://paleozonenutrition.com/2014/09/10/how-much-sugars-in-my-food-what-to-eat-instead-nigel-lattas-sugar-show/.
Celebrating without Sugar
Most people know that I am party mad. But I have a goal of hosting healthy birthday parties from now on, or healthy-ish at least. I attended a fourth birthday party a few weeks back (yes my social life now revolves around going to kid’s birthday parties). This party presented really healthy food, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of the kids at the party got stuck in to it. This inspired me to try and make my parties less of a junk food extravaganza. My daughter’s birthday party is scheduled for next weekend, and apart from the cake (oh ok, and a small chocolate fountain), there will be no other junk food. My kids love fizzy water, so instead of pink lemonade there will be soda water with berries in the top, a fruit platter, veggie platter with hummus, egg or ham sandwiches and popcorn. And the party favours are going to be sugar free too.
When persuing the aisles of the ‘red supermarket’ (the Warehouse) last Saturday, I was shocked to notice that Christmas confectionery and chocolate advent calendars are now on sale. I guess it’s only four months til Christmas. But am I the only one who thinks that this is commercialism gone mad? I think for Christmas this year we will put something sugar free in each pocket of the advent calendar. I don’t want to be a Christmas kill-joy, but I figure that the kids get enough sweet stuff from everywhere else especially at this time of the year, and it’s just the little changes that make a difference.
If you are a health guru, I need your expertise. Perhaps you’ve made your own ‘gluten-free bliss balls’ or you’ve tried and tested sugar-free recipes on discerning young food critics. If so, please post a comment or link up a recipe below. I’d love to establish a repertoire of sugar-free recipes. Sometimes we think that processed foods contain only a spoonful of sugar. But chances are, they contain more than just a spoonful. And aren’t our children sweet enough?