Sugar is one food item that arguably everyone, especially kids, enjoys because it seems to make everything good. After all, is there a child who can refuse a piece of candy or chocolate (and for grown-ups how can we resist a generous serving of milk tea after a long day)?
We know, however, that allowing children to consume a sugar-heavy diet can lead to a plethora of health complications, including some that might plague them for the rest of their lives.
Myths about sugar explained
We’re sure you’ve heard lots of conflicting opinions about the importance of sugar in the body, the health problems it can lead to, and more. Some of those ideas might have gotten skewed, while others might just be completely false. Here are a few of those opinions and what you need to know to clear up your confusion.
Myth 1: We need to consume sugar because it is essential for energy.
In their book Feed Your Child Right, Lynn Alexander and Yeong Boon Yee write that when processed by the body, sugar is turned into glucose, which is a carbohydrate that is key in making sure that bodily mechanisms are functioning well. However, Alexander and Yee point out we do not need to supply sugar to the body — other kinds of carbohydrates, such as rice, bread, and proteins, can do the same. This means that even if you reduce your sugar intake (or eliminate it from your diet altogether) you won’t necessarily have less energy.
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Myth 2: Some types of sugar are better (and healthier) than others.
Whatever the type of sugar you use in your cooking — whether that’s white sugar, brown sugar, or products like honey or maple syrup — the effect it will have on your body will be the same, according toHealthline. Yes, sweeteners that are not as heavily processed, such as honey, tend to have more nutritional value than those that are more processed, such as white sugar, but those differences are not significant, according to experts.
“Your body has no idea if it came from table sugar, honey, or agave nectar,” Amy Goodson, M.S., R.D., tellsHealthline. “It simply sees monosaccharide sugar molecules.” In other words, whatever type of sugar you consume will be processed into simple sugars and will inevitably affect your weight.
While it is a common notion that a diet that is heavy in sugar can lead to a person developing diabetes, it is also important to note that sugar alone does not cause diabetes. Rather, other factors such as obesity, physical inactivity, insulin resistance, and genetics can impact a person’s likelihood of having the disease, particularly, type 2 diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
Being obese or overweight is one of the most well-known causes of diabetes. The NIDDK says that extra weight can cause insulin resistance and that extra belly fat has been linked not only to insulin resistance but also to type 2 diabetes and heart and blood vessel disease. When combined with insufficient physical activity, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes becomes even greater.
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“Eating sugar does not cause diabetes; it’s a complicated problem involving your pancreas and metabolism,” Dr. Jennifer Haythe, a cardiologist at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York, USA, tellsINSIDER. “When you have diabetes, you don’t produce enough insulin. Insulin helps the glucose get absorbed into your bloodstream and liver as usable energy.”
Myth 4: Artificial sweeteners are better alternatives to sugar.
Some may think that it is better (or even healthier) to use artificial sweeteners than sugar, and it is certainly easy to see the appeal of these products. These have no calories so they can be good for those who are trying to shed off some pounds, and these are also not carbohydrates, so they don’t generally raise blood sugar, according to Mayo Clinic.
However, there is no conclusive data to prove that artificial sweeteners are healthier than sugar. As Quartzreports, a study published earlier this year in the journal British Medical Journal found that there is no solid science to back claims made by companies that manufacture artificial sweeteners that their products are healthier than actual sugar.
A column on the Harvard Health lso notes other possible disadvantages of using artificial sweeteners. First, “use of artificial sweeteners can make you shun healthy, filling, and highly nutritious foods while consuming more artificially flavored foods with less nutritional value.” Second, studies have shown that artificial sweeteners might prevent people from associating sweetness with caloric intake, so as a result, the craving and preference for sweet food over nutritious food increases.
It will be difficult to eliminate sugar from your family’s diet because it’s pratically in everything. However, there are things you can do to make sure that your child only consumes the amount of sugar recommended per day. The health benefits he will experience will be more than worth it!
Don’t forget to read nutrition facts labels
When you do your groceries or purchase food items, make sure you take the time to go through the label on the product packaging, particularly the nutrition facts. This is especially important because just this July 15, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a statement about two studies that found that “a high proportion of baby foods are incorrectly marked as suitable for infants under the age of 6 months, and that many of those foods contain inappropriately high levels of sugar.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that many products now list the amount of added sugar in a food product separately, so they should be easy for parents to check. The organization advises only providing children ages 2 years and above less than 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons) of sugar per day and refraining from giving products with any added sugars to children who are less than 2 years old.
The WHO also recommendsexclusively breastfeeding infants for the first six months of life and preparing nutritious home-cooked meals for children between the ages 6 months and 2 years.
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Give your child fresh fruits as snacks
Kids love their snacks! But rather than letting your child munch on a bag of chips or some candies, give him access to fresh fruits, which are both nutritious and naturally sweet. In their book Feed Your Child Right, Alexander and Yee also suggest providing savory snacks like sandwiches.
These products may be favorites of your child, but the AAP says these also tend to have lots of sugar added to them while they are being manufactured. Better to be on the lookout for healthier snacks to give your child or for alternatives that contain smaller amounts of sugar. The AAP also recommends parents to give their children water and milk to drink. Milk already contains natural sugar in the form of lactose as well as nutrients that your child needs, such as calcium, protein, and vitamin D.
Make sure your child brushes his teeth every day
Brushing his teeth is one of the best ways to care for your child’s teeth, especially because consumption of sugar cannot be avoided. In a previous article on SmartParenting.com.ph, dentists share several tips to help parents care for their kids’ teeth, including instilling in them the habit of brushing twice a day and using toothpaste with fluoride. It is also important to make sure that your child only has the appropriate amount of toothpaste on his toothbrush (a smear the size of a grain of rice for children ages 3 years and below and a pea-sized amount for children between the ages 3 and 6 years).