Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sugar, Sugar Everywhere

Summer holidays have rolled to an end and children everywhere (or almost everywhere ) have gone back to school. While most parents might heave a sigh of relief to get back routine and order and peace back in their lives, I am sure most of them now have to put in extra effort to make sure that their children get adequate nutrition and energy throughout the day.
Breakfast remains the most important meal for the children and since they can have it at home
parents have better control over how their children begin their day. If kids  take their own lunches from home, parental control over food choices can extend further. (I personally do not have experience about the kind of food available at school cafeterias, but whatever I have heard and read is not very encouraging.)
Add in a special diet factor, such as food allergies or vegetarianism / veganism and it becomes even more imperative that parents keep a better watch over what their children consume.
The problem however stems from the fact that given how busy both parents seem to be, we are likely to depend on store bought convenient food items to pack for lunches. Admittedly, without proper planning and forethought, packing home-made nutritious lunches can be a daunting task. Peanut butter - jelly sandwiches, pop tarts , juice boxes, chips and cookies seem to be making more appearances in lunch boxes even now. While these might be alright once in a while, the preservatives, added food colours and dyes and more importantly , the sugar content make such items wholly unsuitable to consume consistently.
But the alarming realization is that almost every thing that you might get your hand on, in a grocery store has a lot of sugar in it. We seem to be surrounded by processed sugar or its derivatives !
Cereal, juices, bread , snacks...the list is endless.

                                                                                 Picture courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There certainly are more wholesome products available in the grocery stores, if we are willing to look and experiment a little.

These are a few tips that we, as parents could follow to make sure that our kids eat food that is nourishing as well as filling :
  • Cut back on baked goods such as cookies , cakes, doughnuts. Too much sugar overload and not nutrient dense enough. (Although an occasional treat is definitely welcome :-) )

  • Check for everyday grocery items that have added sugar. Avoid cold cereals that have high sugar content. Instead, add fresh fruit, or dried fruits or even drizzle a bit of honey. If your family is used to sugary cereals, combine low sugar cereals such as wheat flakes or cheerios or bran cereal. Gradually decrease the offensive cereal.

  • Buy fruit juices that do not have added sugar. Inspite of this, fruits themselves contain a lot of natural sugar. Dilute the juice with water. Have your child eat a piece of fruit instead. The fiber and other nutrients in the fruit will compensate for the sugar.

  • Preparing food from scratch at home will ensure that preservatives, food colours and "natural" flavours do not make their way into your child's diet.

  • Offer savoury breakfasts and snacks. Try cream of wheat with lots of vegetables (Search for "upma" recipes on google - this is a savoury Indian breakfast which is hearty and filling and easily made at home), sandwiches or wraps with hummus and shredded veggies. Dont be hesitant about trying a new item.
  • Replace processed sugar with raw sugar , jaggery, molasses , maple syrup, honey. Even though the nutritional content might still be similar to that of sugar, these are not as highly processed and some of the sweeteners have a low glycemic index, which means that they get gradually absorbed by the system, thus avoiding sugar highs and lows.

  •  Try baking your own breads and muffins and snacks. Baking is a science. You follow the recipe exactly and get the same results every time. Find your own healthy recipe for granola, cereal bars and cookies, even muffins.  
  • Have your kids stay away from sodas and soft drinks. These do not provide any nutrition and fill up children with unnecessary sugar instead. Instead offer fruit juices diluted with sparkling water or a fruit smoothie instead ! If nothing else, milk and water are the best options.

Another point to keep in mind is that all these changes have to be gradual. Start slow and work upto a point
where these choices become a habit. Any sudden change and you are sure to have a rebellion at home ....get ready to say sayonara to peaceful mornings !

Sugar, by itself is not harmful. It makes food palatable and is a simple source of carbohydrates. But its consumption has to be moderate. Anything in excess is always a cause for concern. The following are some of the issues noted due to over consumption of sugar and its derivatives:

  • Sugar suppresses the immune system and lowers the body's defenses against infections.
  • The bacteria and yeast that are naturally found in our bodies feed on excess sugar and multiply, thus causing an imbalance in the system.
  • Sugar contributes to obesity.
  • Over consumption of sugary treats prevents children from getting nutrition, because it causes a feeling of fullness.
  • It also contributes to teeth and gum decay.

The reasons for avoiding sugar are many and varied.
It is upto us as parents to make wise food choices not only for the children in our families ,
but for ourselves as well. Many experts suggest that involving the kids in shopping , cooking and choosing what they eat is a better way of getting them to eat healthier.
Always, always look at the labels on the products that you purchase, even if the cover says that the product is all natural and fat free. Look for any ingredients that sound artificial , for sugar derivatives such as fructose, glucose, dextrose, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup.
Start the change today so that your family can then reap the sweet benefits (pun intended ! )

How would you make better choices for your family regarding sugar ??

As always, please consult your physician before making any major changes in your diet.
This post is not intended to be used as a medical reference.

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