October 18, 2010

Trick or Treat? The Sweet Truth about Sugar

10/18/10 |
Amanda Bachman, Dietetic Intern, Bay Pines VA Health Care System, Pinellas County Extension

With Halloween and the holiday season right around the corner, families are bombarded with candy, treats, and sugar filled parties. How can these sweet treats impact your family’s health? Let’s take a look at the truth about sugar.

Risks of Too Much Sugar
Despite what popular diets may say, the body does actually need carbohydrates to function. Sugar, a form of carbohydrate, is found naturally in healthy options such as fruit and milk, but is added to many products, such as:
  • Regular Soda
  • Punches, Lemonade, Fruit Drinks
  • Sports Drinks
  • Cakes, Cookies, Brownies
  • Candy
  • Ice Cream
  • Toaster Pastries, Sugary Cereals

Excess added sugar in your family’s diet from items, such as those listed above, add extra calories with no nutrient benefits. While in moderation treats can have a place within the diet, high intake of added sugar can ultimately lead to unwanted weight gain. Children also consuming sugary treats and beverages, such as excess juice and soda, instead of fruit, vegetables, and milk can be at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiency.
ADHD and Sugar
Although it has been rumored that too much sugar leads to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and can cause children to “bounce off of the walls”, research has shown that this belief is actually a myth. ADHD has shown to be a result of genetics and environmental sources such as cigarette smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy. However, a diet low in added sugar is suggested for all children for optimal health.

Sugar Addiction

There has also been suggestion that a diet high in added sugar can be classified as an addiction, or rather a sugar-dependency. Research shows that eating high amounts of excess sugar can actually trigger the same areas of the brain as addictive drugs. What does this mean for your child? A diet high in added sugar could lead to a slippery slope of a strong liking and dependence on sugary options. Therefore, the key is to prevent or stop such habits while your child is young.
How to Reduce Sugar Intake

To help your child avoid acquiring a strong liking for sugary foods, encourage a well balanced diet filled with 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 3 servings of low-fat or non-fat dairy, and whole grains on a daily basis. Save high sugar items for special occasions keeping in mind small portion sizes. Sugar substitutes can also provide a healthy alternative for those with a strong desire for sweetness. Overall, these products have shown to be safe, however, use caution since “sugar free” products may not always be a nutritious choice. For instance, diet soda and reduced sugar beverages should not take the place of milk and water, and items marked as “sugar free”, such as cookies, candies, and prepackaged snacks, can still be very high in calories and fat. 
So how do you tackle the large jack-o-lantern of candy after Halloween? Here are a few tips:
  • Feed your child a healthy meal prior to trick-or-treating to avoid overindulgence on candy when the night is over.
  • Have your child select 3-5 miniature pieces of candy that they will enjoy that night.
  • Establish a plan for what to do with the leftovers
    • Keep the candy out of sight and accessibility
    • Decide with your child how many pieces will be allowed per day, such as 1-2 piece
    • Divide the leftovers into plastic bags to portion out a small daily trea
    • Give the candy away to others (friends, family, co-workers)
    • If overindulgence is a major concern, consider throwing away the leftovers

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