Is Sugar the alcohol of the child?
This is the question posed by American Paediatric Endocrinologist Prof. Robert Lustig, a leader in the global anti-sugar movement and in my opinion a hero of paediatric health.
Professor Lustig puts a pretty convincing argument that sugar in the same way as alcohol, is addictive, toxic when consumed in excess ("it fries the liver"), and has no nutritional benefit ("there is no biochemical action that requires it").
The health consequences of high sugar consumption mirror those of high alcohol consumption; Fatty liver disease, Type II Diabetes and Obesity; all diseases that children are developing at an alarming rate.
As Professor Lustig points out the worlds children are developing the diseases of alcohol without consuming any.
As a mother of 2 young boys and as a Practitioner children's consumption of sugar and how much is appropriate is a topic that I am faced with often. In discussing the role of sugar in a child's diet with my patients I draw on both professional knowledge and personal experience. There is no doubt that sugar needs to be minimised in every child's diet but when you are up against the might of marketing, well meaning relatives and a busy life it can sometimes be difficult to achieve. Here are my tips for winning the fight.
Children are fact absorbing knowledge hungry beings that love learning about how their bodies work. Discussing the effect that all foods, both good and bad, have on their energy, growth, mood and bodily functions gives a child the power to make better choices. Keep it fun, age appropriate and honest. My two young boys know that if they don't drink enough water "they don't poo"; that eating a rainbow of colourful fruit and veggies everyday is vital to their health; that every meal should include at least one serve of veggies if they don't want to get sick; and that an awesome mango or strawberry can taste better than anything else in the world.
They know that you can't taste spinach in a smoothie but it gives them iron that helps make them stronger; that avocado mashed on toast is super yummy and has lots of good fats that are like grease on a bike chain making everything run smoothly.
They know that sugar also tastes ace and should be enjoyed but that too much may feel great for a bit and then they crash and burn. They know that sugar is only ace in small amounts.
Get them involved
Talking with your child about their nutrient needs for their next sporting event can be a great opportunity to get them involved. Working with your child to plan a meal that meets their energy and nutrient requirements can provide both an opportunity for education and for handing over decision making. Being able to identify the foods that provide sustained energy, foods that build muscles and those that include good fats to "oil their joints", can be a fun way to engage your child in their own health.
Having your child plan and make a meal once a week can also be a great chance for them to become involved. As they plan talk with them about ways they can make it even healthier while still tasting good, they will enjoy the challenge.
Getting your child involved in the decision making empowers them to make better choices.
Telling a child that they can't have something often means that they want it even more. Try not to demonise one food but rather "sell" the good stuff. Be positive about healthy foods, comment on how good the fresh raw snow peas taste or how sweet the strawberries are. Healthy food is yummy. Fight the marketing might of the junk food industry with a marketing campaign of your own.
Prioritise your organic dollar
Organic food is expensive but its all about prioritising what you can afford to spend. Organic carrots taste soooo much better than conventionally grown ones. If you can afford it, spend the extra on organic apples, celery, carrots and stone fruit and your kids will gobble them up!
My child's lunchbox this morning - some sugar to enjoy along with plenty of other yummy foods!
FX Medicine, Summer 2017, Vol 84