Your Health: 5 ways to decrease sugar to increase children’s health
November 22, 2016
American kids consume an insane amount of sugar — often double or triple the recommended levels — and these empty calories are blamed for everything from obesity to hyperactivity in schools. What happens when we take it away?
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and Touro University decided to find out by recruiting 43 obese volunteers, ages 9 to 18, and putting them on low-sugar diets for 10 days.
They took out added sugars, but substituted starch to maintain the same fat, protein, carbohydrate, and calorie level as the children's regular diet. Then they measured all kinds of things about how their bodies reacted.
After 10 days, the researchers saw a reduction in diastolic blood pressure, triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein ("bad" cholesterol). In addition, blood sugar levels and the amount of excess insulin circulating in the blood improved.
Even though the children were still eating roughly the same amount of calories, the participants lost weight — an average of nearly two pounds in that short period of time.
"When we took the sugar out, the kids started responding to their satiety cues," said Jean-Marc Schwartz, PhD, one of the lead researchers. "They told us it felt like so much more food; even through they were consuming the same number of calories as before, just with significantly less sugar."
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Up for a challenge? Try just seven days of no added sugar. Eat whole foods and foods as close to their natural state as possible. This is a great way to help children (and adults) become more aware of their bodies and how food makes us feel. It also provides an opportunity to talk about positive body image and eating to fuel your body.
Five Ways to Decrease Sugar
1. Bubble It Up! Water and milk are really the only beverages you want your children drinking. Well, easier said than done with the slew of options they see every day. Embrace the bubbles by letting them try bubbly water with natural flavors or essence. Purchase cans or bottles of flavored sparkling water or get a carbonated water machine and add your own flavors. Remember "liquid sugar" can be the most concentrated and dangerous source!
2. Cereal-iously? Kids' sugary breakfast cereals start the day off with a sugar rush followed by an energy slump, and leaves kids craving more simple sugars all day. Oats are a fantastic and inexpensive way to feed a family and there's so much you can do with them—warm oats, smoothie with oats, yogurt with oats, or pancakes!
3. Yogurt: One of my biggest pet peeves is low-fat or fat-free yogurt, marketed as "healthy," but which in fact are as sugary as a doughnut! Fat is not the enemy, so choose higher-fat yogurt, which is lower in sugar. Stay away from kids' brands of yogurt; those are just shy of jelly mixed with milk. Greek yogurt is a fantastic choice because of its higher protein content.
4. After School Sugar Rush? Tired and hungry after school, kids often beg for a sugary treat when their bodies are really crying out to be refueled with proper food. Providing complex carbohydrates, protein and fat will give them a natural energy boost and keep them full until dinnertime. Think apple slices with cheese, veggie sticks with hummus or a quesadilla with beans!
5. Get Fruity! Fruit is naturally very sweet. Up the "fun factor" by freezing grapes or making fun faces with fruit. There are millions of ideas online to help get creative with fruit!
Kids don't always understand the reason why we should be eating certain foods more than others. It is important that we talk to them about what we eat and why. Try to avoid using terms such as "that will make you fat", etc. and instead highlight the positives of food such as "that will help your bones to grow," "that will give you energy to play sports," "Some foods are "everyday" foods and some foods are "sometimes" foods." It's best to focus on positive reinforcement all the way!
Jill Whisler, MS, RDN, is part of the Rethink Healthy Team, a service the Wellness Neighborhood of Tahoe Forest Health System. For more information on how you can get involved in our programs, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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