The evidence is mounting that sugars, especially added sugars in processed foods, are affecting our children’s overall health and longevity. Unfortunately, the massive sugar intake begins when children are young, but there are ways to reduce the amount of sugar our kids consume while still allowing them to enjoy great tasting foods.
Researchers have pondered for quite some time whether sugar itself harming health or if it’s the weight gain that comes from consuming sugary drinks and foods mainly what contributes to illness over the long term. And it looks like the answer is both. Extra weight increased risks for chronic diseases and diabetes, while itself does do at least some damage to internal organs when it is being broken down by the body. Excessive sugar can damage the liver and lead to kidney failure.
The Liver – our livers process fructose and store it in the form of fat on the body. The organ uses one type of sugar, called fructose, to make fat. Too much sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (highly processed sugar) causes a fatty buildup that can lead to liver disease. Some studies have shown that sugar can be as damaging to the liver as alcohol, even if you’re not overweight.
The Kidneys – Sugar is not a problem for the kidneys unless the blood sugar level gets too high. This commonly occurs in both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Once the blood sugar level gets higher than 180 mg/dl, the kidneys start to spill sugar into the urine. The higher the blood sugar, the more sugar comes out in the urine. If your kidneys are normal, this usually isn’t a problem, but if you have diabetes, too much sugar can cause kidney damage.
Additionally, researchers say that sugar can, both directly and indirectly, cause type 2 diabetes. Not all studies prove that sugar causes diabetes, however, the conclusion has always been the same: the association is strong. It may directly increase risk because of the impact fructose has on your liver, including promoting fatty liver, inflammation and localized insulin resistance (9, 14, 15). These effects may trigger abnormal insulin production in your pancreas and increase your risk of type 2 diabetes (14, 16). Eating large amounts of sugar can also indirectly raise diabetes risk by contributing to weight gain and increased body fat — which are separate risk factors for developing diabetes (17).
In the new study, which was financed by the National Institutes of Health and published in the journal Obesity, scientists removed foods with added sugar from a group of children’s diets and replaced them with other types of carbohydrates so that the subjects’ weight and overall calorie intake remained roughly the same. After only 10 days, the children showed dramatic improvements, despite losing little or no weight. The findings add to the argument that all calories are not created equal, and they suggest that those from sugar are especially likely to contribute to Type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases, which are on the rise in children, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the Benioff Children’s Hospital of the University of California, San Francisco.
These should be reasons alone to limit the amount of sugar we feed to our children. But how do we do that?
Limit Sodas and Juices – The majority of juices on the market have TONS of added sugar and aren’t great for adults, let alone children. These should be limited or even removed completely from your child’s diet. An excellent substitute for soda and juice is sparkling water. Let your kid choose which flavor they like and cease the purchasing of juices and sodas. Just make sure there are no artificial sweeteners added. The only ingredients should be carbonated water and “natural flavors” when looking for sparkling water. Kids cannot drink what you don’t buy. Ultimately, you have all the control over what drinks are brought into your home. This is the sparkling water my kids absolutely love!
Cook More Veggies – Make your dinners with more vegetables than you currently do. When I say vegetables, I mean whole foods that you’ve washed and prepared after getting them from the produce section of the grocery store; not canned sweet corn, which is genetically modified to be riddled with excessive sugar to improve the flavor. Just start cooking an entire side dish that’s made completely with vegetables.
Prepare Snacks – For the time-crunched parents out there, this one will be tough. But for me, my children’s health is worth it! Don’t buy Cheetos or granola bars for kids to have as a snack, instead, make them. Here’s a great guide to help you:
If you just don’t have time to make snacks, buy fruit your kids can easily eat. Teach them how to eat a pomegranate. Show them how to peel an orange. Have them grab a handful of grapes or an apple from the fridge. Bananas are also a great option for a quick snack.
Cook at Home – eating out less will automatically make your kids healthier because you can control the ingredients. Restaurants often add a lot of sugar to boost the flavor profile of their food. But you will find that cooking at home with healthy fats will give you great results. Plus, the experimentation is incredibly fun!
The bottom line is that we have a problem in the U.S. with not just obesity, or the diseases that come with it. All of those things that are becoming epidemics are largely related to the food we consume on a daily basis. The “Standard American Diet” or SAD is truly such. But we can all do little things to improve our health and the health of our kids from the inside out!
Focus on healthy fats such as avocados and olive oil and nuts, and avoid heavily processed oils such as soybean or vegetable oil. Eat fruits and veggies fresh from the produce section as opposed to packed in cans or plastic containers.
It’s often difficult to get kids to eat healthier, especially when you are trying to get them to cut back on their sugar intake. However, it can be done. It’s not fun at first, but keep it up, and put your foot down. Buy that spaghetti squash and pass on the cereal. They may be upset at first, but they will eventually eat what you prepare and happily! For example, my kids don’t know any child in either of their classes that have tried a zucchini. I consider it a win that my kids ask for zucchini noodles for dinner.