As a mom of four, I find that I am constantly monitoring the food going into each member of my family. Sugar is at the top of the list of notable topics in our home. I often hear myself answering when asked about eating something, “no, because it has too much sugar.”
One of my kids recently asked me a very insightful question…”Mom, just how much sugar is ok to have?” I love that she wanted me to break it down for her, so that she could understand more of what I was talking about. The truth is, I didn’t have a quantifiable answer for her off the top of my head.
This was baffling to me, of course, because I see myself as someone who is extremely careful about everything that goes into or onto the bodies of my family members. When it comes to sugar in particular, I serve “dessert” just twice a week, don’t buy juice, soda or candy and read labels constantly to find the hidden sugars. It made me think, that if I needed further clarification to this point, perhaps many others could as well. So I donned my cap and did a little detective work.
Sugar is ubiquitous. Sugarcane is the world’s third most valuable crop and is the cause of a global public health crisis. The pervasiveness of obesity, along with related chronic diseases, has spread like wildfire across every country where sugar-based food products dominate the food economy. Obesity is now a bigger health crisis globally than hunger, and the “leading cause of disabilities worldwide,” according to CNN.
What’s GOOD and What’s “Bad?”
A moderately active adult can safely metabolize six teaspoons or 24 grams of added sugar. Young children can safely consume up to four teaspoons or 16 grams of added sugar. Because the body breaks down these “simple sugars” more rapidly, your body experiences a sugar rush. Additionally, many processed food products laced with added sugars are nutritionally void. Any added sugars consumed in excess become fat and inflammation in the body. This has the potential to lead to high blood sugar, insulin resistance or one of the many chronic diseases rooted in inflammation.
There are, of course, naturally occurring sugars found in whole, unprocessed foods such as, milk, fruits, vegetables and some grains, which are all loaded with beneficial nutrients. Our bodies can digest these sugars more slowly because of the high water and fiber content. In turn, we don’t experience a dramatic insulin spike. While naturally occurring sugars are a much healthier choice, it is still important to be aware of not consuming too much. You can consume non-starchy vegetables with abandon, but the sweeter, starchier ones, as well as fruit can be consumed daily, but thoughtfully.
Be a Sugar Sleuth
Last week, I spent two days calculating the amount of added sugars my children consumed. I was astonished at how difficult it was to keep it under 16 grams. Before they put a morsel of their breakfast in their mouths, each of my four children had consumed 12 grams of added sugars. Where do you ask? In their vitamins (multi, fish oil, D, C and probiotics). Once the bottles run out, I will be taking a different strategy to getting those vitamins into my kids.
I encourage all of you to do a little sleuthing of your own. Make it a game…..take a guess at how much sugar you or your family consume, then start adding it up and see how close you come. It isn’t as easy as you think when you aren’t consuming only real foods!
So, what do we do?
We live in a world with many mixed messages, that too often seem to play on our emotions. I look at my own health and wellness as a journey. Since knowledge is power, I believe I can do the best job keeping my family safe by constantly reading, learning, asking important questions and trying to not get overwhelmed. And if I make a mistake (like buying the wrong brand of vitamins), I try to learn from it, and then quickly let it go. It’s unrealistic for me to expect that my kids or I won’t eat undesirable foods on occasion. But I believe if I expose them to enough real food, limit the processed ones and empower them with knowledge, they will have a better shot in life at not getting buried under the mountain of sugar and all that goes with it.