Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice

Just how much sugar are our children made of nowadays?

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice.

Many of us will be familiar with this old traditional nursery rhyme that has been learnt and recited down through the ages since its origins in the late 1700s and early 1800s.  But despite the metaphors and other interpretations that may or may not be implied through the words, just how much sugar are our children made of nowadays?

How much sugar is in their diet?  And how much would they actually be deprived or miss out on in nutritional terms if they actually cut sugar (that’s refined sugars) out of their diet?  In fact what foods contain sugar aside the obvious?  What would the benefits of a sugar free diet be and at the end of the day is trying to live in a sugar free bubble realistic …. if indeed possible?

These were all questions we set about researching in a quest to eat a little less sugar as a family in readiness for our February challenge of a sponsored sugar fast fund-raising the cash needed for an Outlook Expedition to Ecuador in 2014.  Why sugar?  Amongst the top five of Ecuador’s primary exports is sugar, the others being cocoa, coffee, shrimp and bananas yet when visiting the country from our recollections of a trip there in 2004, chocolate and sweets are relatively hard to get hold of and were certainly expensive for the Ecuadorian pocket.

Still in this country, sugar abounds in a huge number of products from the obvious sweets, cakes and biscuits to drinks, breads and certain cereal to name but a few sources.  On investigation the amount of sugar can sometimes be astronomical and it is therefore no surprise that many of us are taking on board far too much sugar, sometimes without really even knowing it!

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that sugar is a carbohydrate present in most foods naturally but it is added to a lot more.  Typically, it is recommended by the NHS that our diets should contain about 10% added sugars which for an average height male amounts to 70g and for a female 50g.  The issue is, however, that many of us are eating way in excess of this, adding excess calories and ultimately contributing to and increasing the risk of becoming overweight, as well as the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke.  Other problems also include tooth decay.  One experiment that we once ran with a year 6 class saw a tooth being left in a fizzy drink for a week.  At the end of the week, the fizzy drink was drained to see the impact that it had made on the tooth!  To the children’s surprise, no tooth remained!  The glass of fizzy drink, left for just one week with a tooth in it, decayed the entire tooth so that there was nothing left!

It could therefore be said that added sugars are empty calories.  They can be said to provide energy but less nutrients than other sources.  Eating more calories than we need means that the body stores this excess as fat!  Obtaining the necessary sugars for a healthy balanced diet provides a sufficient supply.

Cutting Down on Sugar

Making small adjustments can then start to make a big difference.  Why not consider these:

  1.  Exchange fizzy drinks and high sugar squashes with water or unsweetened fruit juice.  A glass of unsweetened fruit juice also counts as one your five a day but try and have it with a meal to avoid the acid from the juice damaging teeth too!!!  And never never never put anything other than ‘milk’ (*) or water in a baby’s bottle!
  2. Chose fresh fruit rather than fruit from a tin especially if it’s stored in syrup but always try at least, if you want to buy tins to get the fruit in its own juice!
  3. Consider changing to wholegrain breakfast cereals moving away from the sugar coated, honey or chocolate ones.
  4. Try and limit the amount of sugar you have in hot drinks – maybe cut down a little at a time over a longer time period.
  5. Check out the food labels for the amount of sugar in the products you buy.
  6. For desserts why not try natural yoghurt, instead of ice cream, or even lower fat rice pudding (although watch out for those food labels to check the sugar content)

(*) this refers to milk such as breast or formula.

And a final word on Fruit

I remember the first time I had to go to the dentists when my daughter was small.  Wanting to keep her quiet while I had my check up, I gave her a small pot of raisins to pick at (what a good mother – no sweets in sight!!!).  To my horror the dentist criticized my choice for the sugar content in dried fruit and fruit indeed!  Many of you too may also be aware of the sugar in fruit and have similar concerns.  Fruit however, does contain a natural sugar, but it also contains fibre, vitamins and minerals and a portion of fruit, of course, counts towards your five a day!  The balance then is to enjoy the fruit, know it’s doing you some good, have a drink of water afterwards and even consider brushing your teeth!

Everything in Moderation

The old adage says everything in moderation and this is true for what we eat, sugar included!  The key is to have a firm understanding of the quantity that “moderation” needs to be!  The odd treat is always nice and this is important for children to grow up and realize too but that is exactly it – sugar, outside the “moderated” healthy zone needs to a very occasional treat!  Knowing why too much isn’t healthy and what too much can do is all part of taking responsibility for their health and learning how behave moderately is part of the parcel of growing up which parents have a duty to help their children with.

Likewise cutting added sugars out entirely from our diets whilst unlikely to do much damage due to naturally occurring sugars in food, could well backfire later on in life as some children may grow up begrudging the fact they never had a chocolate bar and critically not learn the skills of moderation and responsible consumption!

There is a scale and the safe zone is clearly identified by the health professionals and nutritionist’s to give us guidance.  Importantly, as with everything, it is always sensible to discuss any major changes in diet with a doctor and take advise from a qualified professional first.

Whilst we are going to do a sugar fast for one month to raise money for a good cause, ultimately, we will revert to a little sugar (certainly a whole lot less than probably now) but in line with the recommended daily limit.  The question is what are you going to do?

If you would like to sponsor us on our family sugar fast which will run for one month from 4th February to 4th March, please follow this link to our Expedition Ecuador 2014 page.

sugar and spice and all things nice

Further Reading:

http://www.nhs.uk/change4life/pages/sugar-swap-ideas.aspx
http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/sugars.aspx
http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/1139.aspx?CategoryID=51&SubCategoryID=167
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/kids-and-sugar/MY02029

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