The Sugar Wars – 10 Tips for Cutting Back on Sugar Consumption
Last weekend, while spending the day at a kids’ softball tournament, I found it awful that the ice cream truck was continuously making rounds in the park. Here were 100s of young girls, exercising and sweating their way through the day – drinking tons of water and Gatorade – only to be sucked into the gentle tune of the ice cream truck. Go to a school party – and chances are the kids will be served more sugar on one plate than they require for an entire day (or two). And, check out the grocery carts of most people with children and you will find more sugary drinks and snacks (as well as processed convenience foods containing massive amount of sugar) than you will find fruits and vegetables in the cart.
Worse, is that sugar is EVERYWHERE. According to the Mayo Clinic, although sugar consumption among children is down since 2000, US children are still eating WAY too much sugar, and most of them are getting this sugar in the home – through sugary drinks, sweets and treats, and processed foods. Even that apple juice you might be offering your child is likely laced with a hefty amount of sugar.
The question is, how do we curb our family sweet tooth, and what can we do to ensure that our children are not consuming too many excess (and empty) calories by getting too much sugar?
The most important thing to do is to read labels. Certainly, when you are grocery shopping with kids in tow the last thing you want to do is stop and read labels. I suggest you take an informational trip to the grocery store ALONE and read labels. If sugar (under any of its surnames such as white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, maple syrup, pancake syrup, fructose sweetener, liquid fructose, honey, molasses, anhydrous dextrose, fructose, sucrose, crystal dextrose and dextrin) is listed as one of the top four ingredients – you should avoid the product.
Processed foods – or anything that comes in a box or can – are normally high in sugar because sugar is used as a natural preservative. Check the labels, and as much as possible try to avoid boxed and bagged food meals.
Switch from canned veggies to frozen vegetables. Frozen veggies (and fruits) have less than half the sugar their canned counterparts do. And frozen is nearly as convenient as canned food items, and still live up to the heat and eat factor.
Offer water as the main drink in your household. Juices, sodas, sports drinks, boxed drinks, flavored waters, Kool-Aid, and even certain milks are packed with sugar. When children drink sugary drinks, they are basically consuming empty calories that offer no nutritional value. Offer the sugary drinks as a special treat only – and NEVER before bedtime. If your child is not fond of water then get creative by freezing fruit in ice cubes or splashing lemon or orange slices into water bottles. It may take some time, but eventually you will be able to cut out a large source of empty sugar consumption by making the switch to water. (Plus, it can save a lot of money!)
Stop buying crackers, white pasta, white potato products, white breads, and white rice (anything white equates to sugar), sugary cereals, sweet yogurts, and other convenient foods that are sweetened or preserved by outside sugar sources. One bowl of Lucky Charms has 10g of sugar whereas the RDA of sugar for children is 6g.
Wean your children. If you and your family are like most families, the break up with sugar will not be pleasant in the beginning. Rather than go cold turkey, make mild changes a few days at a time to help ease the sweet tooth. The taste buds become accustomed to sugar in copious amounts. If you reduce the amount of sugar offered in your home a little at a time it won’t be such a difficult switch. For instance, start with the drinks in your home and implement a water-drinking contest. Then, start eliminating sweet snacks one at a time. Replace evening desserts from chocolate or ice cream to cut strawberries in a yogurt dipping sauce.
Be an example for your children! Your kids will not be motivated to eliminate sugar unless mom and dad are doing the same. Remember kids learn more by watching than they do by listening – and your example sets the tone for their future health.
Get the kids involved with the battle against the sugar wars. Teach your kids to look at labels, and pay attention to serving sizes. Empower your kids with information, and teach them how to make smart choices when it comes to the food they put into their body. Help them understand that empty calories – meaning high sugar foods with no nutritional value – won’t help them to grow up to be healthy and strong.
Sink your teeth into healthy sweetness. Cherries, apples, oranges, lemons, watermelons, and other fruits all contain natural sugars which can satisfy the pickiest sweet tooth. Replacing sugary treats and snacks with fresh fruits reduces artificial sugar intake, and adds nutritional value.
Last but not least – don’t completely rule out ALL unhealthy or sugary foods. There is nothing wrong with a treat every now and then, and kids will face the sugar war as stronger soldiers if you allow sugar in moderation. If your child thinks they will never be able to eat a cupcake or cookie again, they will feel deprived and actually crave the junk food more.
What have you done to fight the sugar wars in your own home? Share your tips in the comments!