If you google ‘sugar NHS’, the first result you see is from www.nhs.uk. It says “Most adults and children in the UK eat too much sugar”.
Sugar is all around us – and the fact that we eat too much is common knowledge. But changing our habits is hard – with young children, it can seem impossible.
David Gillespie is the father to 6 children and after giving up sugar and seeing the dramatic benefits first hand, he is on something of a crusade to educate the world about the dangers of sugar. We invited him to explain why he gave it up and share his tips on how we could too.
Sugar makes kids (and the rest of us) fat. What we call table sugar is half glucose and half fructose. The fructose half is converted directly to fat by the liver and it destroys our appetite control so that we want to eat more of everything.
The more sugar our kids eat, the fatter they will be.
But that will be the least of their worries if they eat sugar. Being fat won’t kill them but the diseases that being fat is a symptom of, will. High quality studies are starting to confirm that sugar consumption leads straight down a path to fatty liver disease then insulin resistance, PCOS, Type II Diabetes, Kidney Disease and on to depression, anxiety and ultimately Alzeheimer's disease. Yes, sugar will make kids fatter today and give them rotten teeth but in 50 or 60 years’ time it will kill them.
Getting Kids Hooked
Sugary-food manufacturers know that time-poor parents want to be able to feed their children a quick, nutritious meal or snack. They also know that the sweeter they make the meal or snack, the more likely the child will want to eat it. The end result is foods with misleading nutrition messages on the outside (packaging) and sugar on the inside (e.g. products labelled as "low fat" may have high sugar content). Kids should be eating the same things you are (and not eating the same things you avoid), but don’t expect your child to give an award to anyone who removes sugar from their lives.
Useful Tips For Helping Children Avoid Sugar
All of these must be accompanied by a clear explanation as to why you are prohibiting sugar, set out in terms that your children will understand and which clearly affect them. Information has been proven to make a big difference when it comes to children and sugar.
Juice Is Not an Appropriate Drink For Toddlers (or anyone else)
You wouldn't put Coke in sipper cup (you wouldn't, right?). So don't put juice there either. Fruit juice is sugar which has been extracted from fruit. Our body doesn't distinguish between the sugar in juice and the sugar from cane. It’s all just glucose+fructose. And since fructose (the dangerous part) is present in equal or higher quantities in juice as it is in soft-drink, it must be avoided. Choose water or milk instead.
Ensure The House is Sugar-Free.
This must be absolute. If you have any cracks in the sugar-free wall at home, kids (like sheep looking for a break in the fence) will exploit that weakness and soon you will be back where you started. If you are firm (and unwavering) about this, kids will accept the new reality a lot quicker than you think. Don’t Ban Stuff Banning anything only seems to make it more attractive! Instead, know what your school menu offers and help your children choose carefully. They will occasionally choose the wrong thing but that’s not the end of the world. Most kids will try hard to obey your rules and when they don’t, they’ll feel guilty about it and probably won’t make a habit of it.
Don’t Be Afraid of the New
When your child comes home with a tale of woe that their friend had [insert name of new treat] in her lunchbox, don’t automatically say no. Check it out. It might be sugar-free or very low in sugar. You’d be surprised. And if it isn’t sugar-free, explain that that’s the reason you’re saying no; you’ll be surprised how accepting children can be.
Find Another Way to Reward Children
Food rewards are easy and mindless, but should be restricted to circus animals. Your kids deserve better. If they have balanced a ball on their nose for an hour, reward them with a trip to the movies rather than an ice-cream. Food is fuel, not a reward.
Prepare Them For Parties
If you know they are going into an environment where sugar consumption will be mandatory, talk to them about why it’s not a good idea to have too much. Ask them to have just one fizzy drink or juice then switch to water or diet soft drinks if they’re available. Ask them to veer towards the crisps and away from the sweets. Maybe they’ll have more than one drink, but if they do, they’ll have your words ringing in their ears. Don’t prohibit them from bringing home a party bag, but do ration the consumption of the bag’s contents.
Don’t Make a Teenager Stick Out.
Teenage kids would rather throw themselves in front of a bus than not do what everyone else is doing. Give them some secret rules that they can follow without looking like a weirdo, such as choosing cool, youth-oriented diet versions like Coke Zero and Pepsi Max. When they’re heading for a sleepover (aka sugarthon), pack a bottle of diet soft drink and a bag of crisps as gifts for the host; that way your child will at least have a choice. (It also teaches them that it’s nice to contribute something).
Don't Expect Too Much.
You can’t expect children to never taste sugar. They will go to parties and they will have treats. And, being children, they will chow down with the rest of their mates. If you’ve had them on a no-sugar (or low-sugar) diet, they won’t be used to the fructose and may well find much of the food too sweet, but they’ll still probably eat it. Don’t panic.
The Golden Rule: Party food is for parties
This rule seems to work well with kids. Sure, they love party food, but it’s an extra-special treat for them because they don’t get it every other day of the week. I’m no professional child wrangler, but it seems to me that you’ve got to give kids a little room to adjust. Don’t expect them to elect you parent of the month if you start cutting sugar from their diet, but remember that eventually they do adjust to the reality that sugar is no longer part of your (or their) lives. And the older they get, the more they will appreciate why – and thank you for it.
NHS AdviceThe NHS advises that sugars occur naturally in foods such as fruit and milk, but we don't need to cut down on these types of sugars. Added sugars are found in foods such as sweets, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, and some fizzy drinks and juice drinks – these are the sugary foods we should cut down on. Sugars added to food shouldn't make up more than 10% of the energy (calories) you get from food and drink each day. Nutrition labels often tell you how much sugar a food contains. Look for the "Carbohydrates (of which sugars)" figure in the nutrition label. HIGH – over 22.5g of total sugars per 100g LOW – 5g of total sugars or less per 100g For more info, visit www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/sugars.aspx
Author's Note David Gillespie is the author of ‘Sweet Poison: Why Sugar makes us fat”. He describes himself as a recovering corporate lawyer, IT consultant and father to six young children. A few short years ago he was 40kg overweight. He had run out of diets - all had failed. David cut sugar - specifically fructose - from his diet and he immediately started to lose weight, and keep it off. He set out to look at the connection between sugar, our soaring obesity rates and the diseases of the twenty-first century. For more info, visit www.howmuchsugar.com or davidgillespie.org