Sweets. Dessert. Ice cream. Cake. Cookies. Pie. Chocolate. YUM. I looove sweets. I have a real sweet tooth. Do you love sweets too? I think mankind in general has a love affair going with sugar. In the United States each person consumes something like 200+ pounds of sugar EACH YEAR. Who knew that “just one cookie” translated into more than 200 pounds? That’s because it’s never just one. Think about how much sugar your child gets in one week:
*”just one” piece of candy after ballet
*”just one” piece of candy after piano
*”just one” sweet snack after ball practice
*”just one” sweet snack after the game (that doesn’t include the sno-cone, bubblegum, and sweetened sports drink during the game)
*”just one” piece of candy after mid-week Bible class
*”just one” piece of candy during Bible class for knowing a correct answer
*”just one” piece of candy from a well-meaning older person
*”just one” piece of candy from the drive-thru bank teller
And this list doesn’t include the so-called “fruit snacks” that are marketed as healthy juice snacks but are really loaded with high fructose corn syrup, nor does this list include the other snacks your child eats through the week that also include corn syrup, and also don’t forget the “occasional” soft drink and fast food meal – both of which are heavily laden with sugar in many processed forms. And don’t forget birthday parties and class parties where treats are a pre-requisite to having fun. Also consider how many nights per week you feed your children dessert. Or allow a sweet after-school snack. Then on top of all of that, remember Halloween where children are allowed to have at it under the false assumption that “we don’t eat much sugar at our house so this one time a year is ok.” And just a few weeks later the Thanksgiving and Christmas parties begin where we sweetly smile and say, “It’s just once a year.” But right after that comes Valentines’ Day and more parties. All of this in addition to the regular daily and weekly “just one time” treats.
OK so you are getting the picture – each one of us is easily consuming more than 200 pounds of sugar every year. And yes this includes your family – the family that claims “we really don’t eat much sugar.” Yes, you really do eat much more sugar than you realize. It is time to put the brakes on the sugar consumption. The future of your family is at stake.
Sugar is just plain bad for you. We all know that eating a lot of sugar can lead to diabetes and obesity but did you also know that sugar gives your immune system a big punch in the gut? Yes – for a full 24 hours after consuming sugar, your immune system is not functioning at its peak level. This is really bad news because for most of us our immune system is already in a weakened state so sugar gives it an even bigger blow. Ever since I learned that sugar weakens immunities, I have paid close attention and mulled it over quite a bit. Think about this: when is the biggest cold and flu season in our country? It starts somewhere in October and typically slows way down in January. Right smack during three of our most major holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Sugar consumption is at an all-time high. And so is the flu season. How many families do you know who were hit hard with a stomach bug over Christmas? It seemed to me that there were more this year than ever, but I was paying close attention. Then there are all those who have been hit repeatedly with nasty colds that won’t go away. My opinion is that there is a direct correlation between the holiday indulgence in sweets and holiday-time sickness.
Additionally, sugar harms your liver. I am no scientist so I will do my best to explain it in laymen’s terms. White sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, etc., have zero nutritional value. Therefore instead of being digested/synthesized through your digestive system, it goes straight to your liver and is synthesized there. Because it is not a natural food (sugar cane is natural, sugar is not), it is very hard on your liver. It strains your liver. A lifetime of eating sugar may not make everyone’s liver quit functioning, but it will keep the liver from functioning as it should. You will experience the results one way or another, whether it is in the form of high blood sugar, high triglycerides, depression, or some other new-fangled vague disease like fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue. Or, eventually, liver failure.
So basically, grown-ups give kids sugary treats thinking they are being sweet or offering a reward but in reality they are making that child more susceptible to diseases of all kinds, liver failure, diabetes, cancer, and setting them up for a lifetime of sugar addiction – physically and psychologically. We are raising our kids to expect sugary rewards whenever something good happens. We are raising our kids to expect sugary treats whenever two or more are gathered. How does this make sense? How is this good?
IT’S NOT A FOOD GROUP
We all have a natural affinity for something sweet. God created us that way. But interestingly he didn’t create us so that our bodies require sugar; he just created us to like it. And then he placed several wonderful, sweet foods amongst his creation for us to enjoy. On occasion. And, interestingly, unlike sugar, which has NO nutritional value, every sweet thing God created is nutritious. That means that the type of sugar in fruit, maple syrup, or honey is good for you (in moderation). Not only this, but it is NOT addictive. Man-made, or processed, sugars ARE addictive. Unlike natural sugars, processed sugars inhibit the body’s ability to say, “I’m full.” Instead, they actually turn on a craving for more. This is addiction, and addiction is sinful. You may not believe that you are addicted to sugar but consider giving up processed sugar for forever and see what kind of emotions that brings. Just try giving it up for a short time. It will not take long to realize that, yes, you are probably addicted to sugar. Remember that God would not create a food that caused you to sin. God’s foods do not create addiction. In fact, if you eat too much honey you will get sick.
NUTRITION AND PHYSICAL DEGENERATION
There are so many problems with processed sugars that I couldn’t begin to list them all. But there is one other obvious issue that needs to be mentioned: teeth. Sugar is so bad for your teeth. For one thing it just rots them straight out. But something else you may not have considered is that your overall physical health is reflected in the health of your teeth. If your body isn’t tip-top, your teeth will show it. So poor dental health, reflected not only in tooth decay but also facial structure and jaw structure, is a direct reflection on your personal health deep down inside. This has actually been proven through the studies of Weston A. Price, a dentist/physician in the early 1900s who searched the world over for cultures who were free from disease and tooth decay. He found isolated groups of people in every area of the world who were in prime health, free from disease, living long lives, and totally free from tooth decay. Yet they never brushed or flossed their teeth, and they sure weren’t having regular fluoride treatments (and it wasn’t in their water). These people were isolated from modern foods – processed foods such as sugar – and ate only traditional foods. When one person would leave their traditional foods and traditional food preparation for westernized food, that person would soon begin to experience disease and the very next generation of their children was born with facial abnormalities, dental malformation, and other problems. Today modern medicine and modern dentistry make this a non-issue for many people so we are not experiencing the terrible pain these problems wrought. It’s a good thing, yet it just makes us that more removed from the source of our health problems: modern processed foods like sugar. Dr. Price’s work is documented in his extensive book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration and continues to be promoted today through non-profit groups such as the Weston A. Price Foundation and the Price-Pottenger Foundation. But amidst all that bad news, there is some good news: it only takes one generation to correct the problems. That means that if you teach your children to abstain from sugar (and other processed foods) now, their children will be better for it.
JUST SAY NO
That was a very lengthy way of saying, “quit eating sugar.” But I hope you see now why sugar is so bad. And now you are faced with the problem of what to do about it. Sweets and other sugary treats are just a way of life for our culture, especially children. I want to help you learn to live in this culture without making your children feel deprived but without continuing to wreak havoc on their health as well.
First, if your children are very young, my best advice for you is “DON’T START.” If they have not tasted candy and other sugary treats, they will not care about them. When they do taste them, they may not like them and it will be easier to keep them from indulging too much. Meanwhile you can start teaching them as a way of life that these foods are bad. If your children are older and sweets are already a big part of their lives, you have your work cut out for you but it can be done. Start today by teaching them the ugly truth about sugar. Give them incentives to decline the sweets at birthdays and other parties such as a quarter, or a promise of something else yummy to eat that is healthy, etc. Then whenever it is within your power, such as in your house where YOU buy the groceries, stop buying these “foods.” If the children do choose to partake of the goodies at parties, don’t make them feel guilty or even make a stink about it. Simply be that much more determined to make home a haven that is free of the junk. As they grow, you can continue to talk to them about why this food is bad, and encourage them to have just one (as opposed to many). Sometimes the kids just need permission to not get seconds or not finish their treat and to just throw it away when they have had enough. My jaw hit the floor the time I realized my kid was hanging onto a ring-pop just because they didn’t know they could throw it away! Now I remind them all to never feel obligated to accept or finish sweets! You don’t want to create eating disorders. You want to educate and make them wise. So never make it an emotional or discipline issue. Always let it be their choice.
It has been my experience that the longer you go without processed sugar, the less desirable it becomes when you do have it. First, you can taste the fake flavors. Second, you notice how it makes you feel. This is true for adults and children both. I have used the above approach(es) with my children. At first it felt like a losing battle but as they have grown they have begun to choose NOT to indulge on their own. They don’t enjoy the taste as much, they don’t feel good after they eat it, and they also know why it is bad.
Additionally, I make sure we always have special treats at home. My kids get birthday cakes, we make Christmas cookies, and enjoy sweet desserts during holidays. They are soooo not deprived! But I control the ingredients in all of these things. And this is the next point I want to make.
Remember my recent post, “Nutrient Dense?” Everything you eat should have some nutritional value. Some real nutritional value. Go back and read that post through, then come back here and finish reading this one.
All sweets, even the so-called healthy ones, should be a very minimal part of your diet. In other words, you do not need sweets every day or week. Maybe a couple times each month is good. Never is best.
Discover the sweets that God has already put into his creation before you make your own new ones. For example, a bowl full of fresh berries with fresh raw cream drizzled all over. This was never something that made me too excited until I had the real stuff a few years ago. Raw cream drizzled over fresh berries is AMAZING! And the cool thing about it is that it is SATISFYING. You have some and your sweet tooth is satisfied. And what about watermelon? There is nothing quite like a big slice of cold, juicy, sweet watermelon on a hot July night. It’s thirst-quenching, and it’s satisfying.
Have you tried fresh dates? A good friend recently introduced me to Medjool Dates.
These are not the dried up things from a grocery store. These are fresh dates with the pits still in them. Fresh, sticky, chewy, and so incredibly sweet … we eat them like candy. Except that after two or three, our sweet tooth is satisfied. They don’t call our name whenever we walk by, and we are not tempted to have several throughout the day, unlike candy.
Of course there are plenty of ways to combine fresh, whole foods and natural, un-processed sweeteners to make delectable treats that won’t contribute to a decline in your health. Get adventurous and try something new, such as these fabulous chocolate balls:
These are made with coconut oil, honey, ground almonds, cocoa, and shredded coconut. They are so simple and basic, yet they are actually bursting with nutrition. Coconut oil supports your thyroid and all endocrine functions while raw honey is actually an anti-bacterial and anti-viral food. I found the recipe on the web. Again, after just a couple, our sweet tooth is satisfied. We don’t crave more.
You can modify existing recipes by using fresher, whole ingredients and changing the type of sugar and flour used. A great resource is the King Arthur Whole Grain Baking cookbook.
I tried these date squares over the holidays and was pleasantly surprised.
I used my fresh Medjool dates (which were easy to pit and chop up), freshly ground whole wheat flour, freshly rolled oats, butter, and unrefined sugar to make these. Their rich, sweet, ooey-gooey buttery flavor was just right.
People often ask me what I do about birthdays. The answer is simple: I make cake and ice cream.
You’d never know this cake was 100% whole wheat. The icing does have powdered white sugar, but it is combined with raw cream and raw butter. There are actually nutritional qualities to this cake. And the ice cream, well, it’s totally awesome made with my fresh raw cream and eggs, and organic maple syrup instead of sugar.
I wrote about real sweeteners last year in my post, “Sweet To The Soul.” In it I discussed using honey, maple syrup, and molasses to sweeten foods instead of sugar and corn syrup. Several people have asked me about Agave nectar. I really don’t know why we need a new sweetener in addition to the ones God has already provided. Some of you might argue that Agave is not new and that it is all natural (that’s what the producers claim) but the reality is that Agave is a fairly new sweetener, and it is very highly processed. Check out this excellent article from the Food Renegade, or this one from the Weston A. Price Foundation. Other people have asked me about Stevia. Personally I have never used Stevia because I just don’t need to – I have honey and maple syrup. But Stevia is an acceptable choice – it is simply an herb that has a sweet taste.
By using less processed, more nutritious ingredients wherever I can, and by limiting sweets to only true special occasions, I am drastically cutting back on sugar intake for my entire family. And we are healthier for it.
It’s time for you to re-think your family’s sugar consumption. Make 2010 the year that you and your family resolve to kiss your sugar habit goodbye.