“Some scientists contend that sugar’s harm to health goes much further, including heart disease, hypertension, Alzheimer’s, and even some cancers.”

“MOOORRRE,” roared my one-year old from her highchair. My little angel, straight from central casting with her pink cheeks and golden curls, had fire shooting out of her eyes.  “MOOORRRE,” she roared again, as she crammed the last fistful—yes, her spoon had been abandoned—of vanilla ice cream into her mouth. The small bowl of ice cream, presented in honor of her birthday, had been devoured in a frenzy. The first taste had made her stop moving; she actually froze as she experienced the cold, soft, sweet substance. Then all hell broke loose. She couldn’t get the dessert into her mouth fast enough. I gave her a second helping, but refused a third. She cried with disappointment. And her sugar buzz lasted for hours.

Up until the natal day celebration, Emma had never tasted added sugar before. She had liked fruit purees—apples, pears, apricots, peaches—but not significantly more than she liked her other baby foods. But just like those under the thrall of demon rum, Emma was hooked on devil sugar.

Such devotion—let’s use the correct word “addiction”–to sugar is well-established by research.  In the 2014 movie Fed Up, narrated by America’s sweetheart Katie Couric, we were told that in a controlled experiment, lab rats chose sugar over cocaine. Those rats are my kind of people!

While sugar does not produce the same disastrous results as cocaine, it is far from benign. In America, over 80% of processed foods contain added sugar, often in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Even foods that are marketed as “healthful,” like low-fat flavored yogurt and granola bars and sports drinks/juices, are loaded with sweeteners. In That Sugar Film (2014), documentarian Damon Ganeau ate a diet of only “healthy” processed foods, maintaining his normal caloric intake. I’ll bet you can guess what happened: he gained weight and became sickly. It turns out that not all calories are created equal. The nutrients (I’m using the term loosely here) we eat affect our hormone production which, in turn, affects the creation of fat.

Yep, all that sugar in our diet—much of it hidden–has led, in the past sixty years, to a 300% increase of obesity and a 655% increase of Type II diabetes. And some scientists contend that sugar’s harm to health goes much further, including heart disease, hypertension, Alzheimer’s, and even some cancers.

The effects, sadly, can be seen in children. In a recent New York Times article, author Gary Taubes wrote, “I am a fierce critic of sugar and believe that it, in fact, may have prematurely killed more people than tobacco.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/13/opinion/sunday/big-sugars-secret-ally-nutritionists.html Based on the evidence, even a three year old could tell you that we should all cut back on sugar, especially children.

There are plenty of societal strategies that could help the burgeoning crisis. Impose a soda tax. Eliminate marketing of unhealthy food that targets kids. Make food labels more informative. Get rid of junk food options at schools.

But a lot of the battle can be won at home. We, as mothers, can exercise reasonable control over food, especially when our children are young and can develop good lifetime habits. The rules are simple, just seven words, as set forth by food guru Michael Pollan: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. By “eat food,” he means real food. Food that your grandparents (or, if you’re a young mother, maybe great grandparents) would have eaten.  

And, if at all possible, cook at home. Use real ingredients, starting with vegetables, legumes, grains, and, if you must, lean meat.  (I’ve been a vegetarian most of my life, but eschewing meat is a discussion for another day).  To satisfy your sweet tooth, eat fruits. The sugars in fruits—even a “sweet as candy” strawberry—have a very different impact on the body than refined sugars.

So how has Emma fared since her first taste of refined sugar? I’m pleased to report that as a young woman, she is not addicted to sugar. She likes all of the bad stuff (ice cream, cake, cookies, candy, donuts…especially donuts!), but she doesn’t go crazy. In fact, she recently decided to limit her intake of sweets…after I sent her a barrage of articles. And when she has a child (I’m not pushing, just waiting patiently), I’m looking forward to a re-enactment of the first birthday ice cream screams of “MOOORRRE.” This time, though, Mom will  know enough to  decline a second helping.

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