Sugar sure tastes great and can provide some quick energy. But that’s where the benefits end. When you feed your body sugar, you are giving it energy now and telling it to hold on to whatever energy it may have been planning on using… namely your fat. So cutting back (or out) your sugar can go a long way to helping you get fit.
In fact, many experts believe not only that sugar is the primary culprit behind the obesity epidemic in America, but that it’s toxic in general. I’m not sure I subscribe to every idea put forth in this segment from 60 Minutes, but it’s interesting nonetheless and worth your time.
The problem is, sugar is in everything these days. The lower the fat, the more likely it has a bunch of sugar in it. “Healthy” stuff (I’m talking to you cereal and granola bars!) often times is the biggest culprit. And even when you are diligent about it, it shows up in unexpected places. Sugar makes things taste good and it’s cheap, so manufacturers aren’t shy about packing it into their products.
How liberal are they in their use of sugar? Having been convicted about the amount of sugar we were giving our children, I decided to do an experiment. For one day, my wife wrote down everything that we fed Gigi, our four year old. Now this was a normal day. We didn’t try to feed her extra healthy food because we already consider ourselves healthy eaters (not perfect but by most standards, pretty healthy). Here is everything she had that day, with the amount of sugar (in grams) next to that item.
- 4 ounces of skim milk – 6 grams
- Multigrain Cheerios – 6 grams
- Gogurt (yogurt in a tube) – 10 grams
- Trail mix – 9 grams
- 1/2 Turkey sandwich – 2 grams
- Strawberries – 8 grams
- Veggie Straws – 1 gram
- 4 ounces of skim milk – 6 grams
- Eggs – O grams
- Turkey sausage – 0 grams
- 3 jelly beans – 3 grams
- 8 ounces of skim milk – 12 grams
Not bad right? No soda, Doritos, or fast food. But when you add all that up, it was 63 grams of sugar. Suddenly, our healthy meals didn’t sound so great. But grams have always been a little nebulous to me (stupid metric system!), so I converted them to teaspoons (4.2 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon). 63 / 4.2 = 15 teaspoons. FIFTEEN TEASPOONS!
Still don’t have your attention? Okay, let’s convert that to calories. 1 teaspoon sugar = 16 calories. So 15 x 16 = 240 calories. I’ve given my four year old 240 calories worth of sugar.
Need more context still? According to the USDA’s www.choosemyplate.gov, 4-8 year olds should have 1200-1400 calories a day, and no more than 120 “empty” calories (sugar is certainly an empty calorie as it provides no real nutritional value). If you do the math, Gigi had 20% of her calories from sugar (240 / 1200 = 20%). And she had twice the amount of recommended empty calories for a four year old… and that was eating pretty healthy, right!?
When I first tallied all this, I felt like a terrible parent. My precious Gigi was getting a fifth of her calories from sugar. After I settled down a bit, well, I didn’t feel much better. I mean really, what changes can we reasonably make? But never one to give up, I decided to look for ways to cut back.
For starters, she doesn’t need quite so much milk. She loves her some milk but she could stand to have less of it and more water.
Secondly, we only do treats once a week now and on special occasions (but you have to watch out for too many special occasions). Even though three jelly beans doesn’t seem like much, they’re pure sugar.
Lastly, I would like us to make a transition to where fruit can be thought of as dessert. All sugar isn’t created equal (and sugar alcohol isn’t sugar at all). Fructose (sugars from fruit) is treated differently by your body (when it is digested with the whole fruit itself) than processed sugar. And while it’s possible to give your kid too much fruit (which is why we require our smoothies to have equal parts fruit and veggies), I’m certainly not going to restrict fresh fruit from their diets. So to have our kids think of fresh peaches or a big slice of watermelon as a dessert is fine by me! And if we reach this goal, we’d be happy to let them have “dessert” more than just once a week.
We are going to work on these small changes first. If we set out to do too much too soon, we will likely do none of them.
But here’s another thing to be mindful of and that is our kids’ activity levels. The more active the kids, the less concerned I am about the sugar. We don’t have regular TV in our house as it is. And we already greatly limit Netflix viewing. But that doesn’t mean we can’t encourage more playing, running around, dancing, sports, you name it. Remember, the buck stops with us. If our children’s waistlines are ballooning, it’s our fault. So we have to set the example, read labels, be proactive and intentional in protecting our children and encouraging a lifestyle that promotes good body stewardship.
Sugar is delicious no doubt. But it’s not nearly as delicious as being in great shape with a healthy, happy, active family.
You’ve been challenged… now GO!