Are Our Kids Eating Toxic Amounts of Sugar?

January 5, 2015
Categories: Kids, Nutrition

4 Reasons to Cut Back on Sugar & 4 Tips for How to Do It

As parents, we know sweets and treats are not healthy, but our kids love them, and we want to make them happy. After all, a little sugar can’t hurt? It’s ‘just a cupcake,’ soda, or a candy bar, right? Why not indulge our children once and a while?

Four Reasons to take a hard look at the amount of sugar our kids are really eating:

1. It is not really a ‘once in a while’ thing.

An occasional treat sweetened with natural sugars is not a big deal for a healthy individual that is exercising regularly and eating a healthy whole foods-based diet. But kids today are getting way more than an occasional treat – a bowl of ice cream for dessert every night, sodas every day, candy after school, and treats in the lunchbox.

But even kids who aren’t eating dessert and soda every day are getting too much, because it is hidden in “healthy options” like juice boxes, sports drinks, snack bars, and things like fruit flavored yogurts. Sugar is in virtually every packaged foods, according to Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics at UCSF, “There are 600,000 food items in American grocery stores, and 80% of them have added sugar.” So in addition to the obvious culprits (like candy, cookies), there are the hidden sources of sugar that we don’t even count that are adding up (granola bars, yogurts, cereals).

2. Sugar is (like) a drug.
Studies show that sugar affects the brain much in the same way that cocaine does: What Happens to Your Brain on Sugar, Explained by Science. Sugar delivers a double whammy, it is highly addictive and stimulates the appetite. So the more sweet foods a person consumes, the more they want – creating a self-fulfilling cycle.

bigstock-Amusement-park-rides-19603847The Sugar Roller coaster

When we eat sugar, it goes surging into our bloodstream, giving us a burst of energy. But that energy is short-lived, and followed by a crash. So naturally, when our energy and mood crashes – we tend to reach for more of what gave us that burst of energy and the happy feeling – and the cycle happens all over again. I call this the “sugar roller coaster,” and it is easy to get stuck on it!

3. Sugar’s Impact on Health
When we are on the sugar roller coaster for a long period of time, the body becomes less able to process sugars as efficiently as it used to. So blood sugar stays elevated longer, and the body needs to release more and more insulin to lower it. This is referred to as insulin resistance, which leads to obesity as well as increases our risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, fatty liver disease, and a recent study out of UCLA found that diets high in sugar negatively impact our memory and brain function. New research is now implicating sugar in the dramatic rise of Alzheimer’s disease – now being referred to as Type 3 Diabetes, because the plagues in the brain are similar to those seen in diabetes. Many of these diseases were thought to affect adults, but new evidence is finding that kids are increasingly affected.

It Happens Fast
Sugar doesn’t take long to make a mark. A new documentary called That Sugar Film chronicles a man who ate a “healthy low fat diet” with a high sugar content for 60 days, and measured it’s impact on his health. He ate no candy, sodas, or cookies, just “healthy” items like low fat yogurts, granola bars, fruit juices, and cereals – the kind of things that fill our kids’ daily diet. The results were shocking – he gained 4 inches of fat around his waist, developed fatty liver disease, and suffered from serious mood imbalances. This was in just 60 days! He wasn’t eating a whole lot more than the average teenage boy.

Watch the Trailer for That Sugar Film:

Permanent Damage
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, excess sugar is damaging kids’ livers – and increasingly to the point of no return. The liver is a very resilient organ, if you cut a chunk off, it can literally regrow back if there are enough healthy cells to do so. But there is a tipping point with the liver – where you can cross over to permanent damage. Dr. Hyman says that we are seeing a rise in the demand for liver transplants for tweens, due to diets high in sugar – particularly soda consumption.

4. We also have no idea how much is too much.
Excess sugar is linked to an increased risk of almost every disease – including heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Because of this, the American Heart Association has come out with some very stringent recommended limits of added sugar based on the child’s age and caloric intake:

  • Preschoolers: Up to 4 teaspoons per day.
  • Ages 4 to 8: Up to 3 teaspoons a day (elementary aged kids need more nutrition than preschoolers, so they have less room for discretionary calories like added sugars)
  • Pre-teen and teens: 5 to 8 teaspoons per day.

Considering the fact that one soda contains approximately 10 teaspoons, you can see how easy it is to shatter the above recommendations every day. In fact, on average, Americans consume 4 times the recommended amount of added sugar each day. Teenage boys are getting the most – almost 30 teaspoons a day! Over half of all 8 years olds drink one soda each day, and one third of teenage boys are drinking 3 cans of sodas per day. In these amounts, sugar is not harmless calories – far from it.

25 years ago when this doctor was a resident, he rarely saw patients with Type 2 diabetes, now half of all the patients in his clinic are Type 2 Diabetics. Sugar is not just empty calories, and it is not just a special treat anymore. It is making up nearly 20% of our total caloric intake because it is in 75% of all packaged foods – including “healthy” options. Excess added sugar can make your liver look like that of an alcoholic – which is why 1 in 10 kids now has fatty liver disease (40% of obese children). It is time for a change.

Four Tips for Breaking Free from Sugar:

1. Follow my “Rule of Three”
Certain foods help to level out the blood sugar. So when we eat them, we are less likely to spike the blood sugar as high as simple carbs and sugar. So I recommend that each time you eat make sure to get at least one or more of the following:

  • Healthy fats* – avocados, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, nuts, chia seeds, hemp hearts, fatty fish, fish oils. (Make sure to avoid products with damaged fats like trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) and unhealthy GMO oils like soy, canola, and cottonseed oils.
  • Fiber – vegetables & whole fruits, non-gluten grains, quinoa and chia seeds. For example, eating a whole orange is better than drinking orange juice – because the whole fruit contains the fiber.
  • Protein – high quality organic animal products, quinoa, wild fish, chia seeds, hemp hearts.

By getting healthy fat, protein or fiber each time you eat, you will stay off the sugar roller coaster and feel more satisfied and energized between meals. When your blood sugar is more stable, you will crave less sugar.

So instead of grabbing one of those 100 calorie snack packs – reach for apple slices with almond butter, or hummus and veggie sticks.
* Fat is Your Friend – Fat is a special case, because for decades we have been told that fat is what is making us fat and causing diseases, and the truth is – sugar and simple carbs are much more to blame. In fact, getting more healthy fats (like avocado, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, and grass fed butter) is one of the critical steps we need to take in order to get off that sugar roller coaster. One of the things that I have found with just about everyone that has an issue with sugar is that they are not getting enough healthy fat in their diets. Many people who are stuck on sugar got there because they have been trying to be healthy – and have been following a low fat diet. But here is the kicker – a low fat diet is not healthy. Our bodies need healthy fats to keep you blood sugar level, to suppress our hunger hormones, and to absorb fat soluble vitamins. Without sufficient fats – we are more likely to be hungry all the time.

2. Ditch the Artificial Sweeteners
“Diet” sodas are an oxymoron – because they do not help you to reach or maintain a healthy weight. Studies show that they raise the risk of diabetes, negatively impact our gut bacteria (linked to weight gain and much more), and are linked to weight gain (not loss). Plus – they stimulate your sweet tooth even more than sugar, so they make you crave and eat more sweets and carbs. And perhaps worst of all, artificial sweeteners are made from chemicals which can be cytotoxic to the brain – not good for anyone, and certainly not kids.

3. Shop Smarter.
As parents of young children, we buy the groceries – so if we just stop buying the sugar and junk, then at least it won’t be in the house for kids to eat. It is amazing how they might start to reach for healthier choices like whole fresh fruit when there isn’t an alternative. Plus, taking a short break can effectively “reset” your sweet tooth. Skip the sweets for a week, and your taste buds become more sensitive – so those candies are too sweet, and the apple is just right. Your kids might surprise you with what they choose for dessert after a few days!

4. Keep it in Balance & Set a Good Example
If mom or dad is eating lots of sugar, then they will be more likely to follow our lead.
So if mom and dad are making healthy choices and setting a good example for the kids, they will be more likely to follow suit. If you are struggling with getting the sugar out of your diet – consider taking Sara’s Break Up with Sugar eCourse – which will be available again in late January.

Just remember, it is next to impossible to eat ZERO sugar – so focusing on small amounts of natural sources and buying less packaged and processed foods will go a long way towards lowering your sugar intake. Plus when you make something from scratch – you can use less and better sources.

Want to learn more about how to help your family be healthier this year? Join Nutritionist and Author Sara Vance, at the Coronado SAFE Parenting Conference on January 24th to learn more about How We are Overwhelming Our Kids with Processed Foods. Sara’s talk will cover some key ingredients to look for/avoid, how these things could be impacting their health now and later, and some healthy swaps and tips for how to keep it all in balance.

Further Reading:

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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