A Reality Check on Sugar

Posted on November 24, 2009 by

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On a recent Wednesday, I picked my kids up from school.  I met my daughter as she walked out of her classroom with a sucker in her mouth. Fairly normal for most kids, I know.  In my house we do not eat sugar, it is not considered a food.  I was a bit disappointed to find her eating candy. We walked to the car and I kindly asked her to put it away for another time. She asked me when she could finish it.

“Well,” I replied,  “today we have Tae Kwondo (the instructor does not allow sugar, and discourages the kids from eating it at all) and tomorrow is another school day, when do you think would be a good time?”

She thought about my answer for a moment, and replied  “maybe I should just throw it away?”

She then went quiet for a bit and we continued the drive home. Then she said, “Mom, I do not understand, why would my gym teacher give me something that wasn’t good for me?”

I was not sure what to say.  I could not come up with an answer and just said, “I don’t know.”

With the rates of childhood obesity at an all time high, why are teachers giving SUGAR to our children?  Did you know that children who are addicted to sugar have a higher risk of being addicted to drugs and alcohol as adults?  That is a disturbing thought.  The FDA listed sugar as an addictive drug over 30 years ago. In my eyes, it is not any different than drugs and alcohol. The brain does not discern sugar from hard drugs like meth or cocaine; they all create the same addictive patterns in the brain. Given that 1 in 3 American children now has allergies, ADHD, autism or asthma and according to a study in 2008 from the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 3 Fourth graders is expected to be insulin dependent by the time they reach adulthood.

Sugar is everywhere and hidden in many processed foods you would not expect, like salad dressing and potato chips. Children often begin their days with sugar cereals, followed by “healthy” granola bars, “fruit” snacks that have no actual fruit in them, and worse than that sports drinks and soda. Kids become sugar addicts before they even get to middle school.  Parents often opt for the school lunches due to convenience, however, under the USDA’s current budget for the National School Lunch Program of approximately $8.5 billion (in comparison the Pentagon’s 2009 budget $600 billion), less than a dollar is available per meal for the purchase of healthy food. Most of the food in our school lunches comes out of a can or package, with no fresh raw fruits and veggies available.

Let’s get back to my daughters question: “Why would my teacher give me something that was not good for me?”

It is time for us as parents and mentors to become more educated and become better advocates for the children in our lives.  We need to educate ourselves so that we can better educate and prepare our children for life.  They look up to us; whether we are moms, dads, grandparents, or most importantly teachers. It is our job to be sure we are living as an example and feeding them foods that will make them stronger and healthier, not adult addicts.

We do not need to bribe our children with sugar or to reward them for a job well done.  Children get excited when we get excited. A great reward is more time with our children; a special day out or an extra story at night that is even more special than a sugar treat. If we make a big deal out of it, they will understand the message.  When we give them sugar, we are setting up a reward system that ultimately will never serve them. Children want to feel good and have energy, when we feed them sugar, that all goes out the window.  Have you watched a child eat a piece of candy?  What happens within 15-30 minutes after consuming that candy?  One of two things usually, they crash and go to sleep or they are out of control.

I have been lucky enough to volunteer in my son’s classroom and educate his fellow first graders on healthy snacks.  The first week I went into the classroom, only 8 of the 22 children brought what I would call a healthy afternoon snack; a whole fruit or vegetable.  Today was week three of my healthy snack lesson, and we had 18 of the 22 children with a healthy snack, in just three weeks. My lesson is at 2pm in the afternoon, often a time when children crash just as we do. My son’s teacher shared with me yesterday that now that the children are eating healthy snacks, the energy of the classroom has changed, they are still able to focus and follow directions in the afternoon.  These children are asking for healthy snacks at home and taking the recipes with them to share with their families. Today we made banana blueberry smoothies – they loved them and had fun making them!

It is my goal as a parent to lead by example, and educate my children about how to make healthy choices in all aspects of their lives.  Give it a try, make a commitment to yourself and your family to eliminate all refined sugar.  The changes resulting from this small decision will astound you.

Posted in: Food For Thought