A few weeks after giving birth, when we were still pretty confined to our home and spending a lot of time watching Netflix, my hubby and I decided to watch the documentary Food, Inc. I don't really remember a whole lot from those days, and I couldn't give you specifics about the documentary, but I do remember that in it, they discussed sugar. They talked about how addictive sugar is, how when we consume sugar, it basically activates the same part of the brain as cocaine, and that it is just as addictive, if not more so, than the narcotic.
Um, that's scary as hell.
The documentary went on to talk about the sugar industry and how it's conspiring to make us all addicted to "the other white powder". I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but I do think it's pretty crazy how sugar is added to so much of what we consume. As a matter of fact, sugar is added to a lot of the formulas that are marketed for our infants in the form of sucrose. It's also added to baby cereals and to nearly everything that's marketed for kids. Yikes. After watching that, my resolve to exclusively breastfeed Caleb grew tenfold.
My husband and I have struggled with our weight for most of our lives. Growing up in Latin/Caribbean/Hispanic households, the more you eat, the healthier you are. We also grew up in an era rife with processed foods and sweets. It's nobody's fault, but sugar was probably in so much of what we ate. And the more I read and learn, the more I understand what a hold sugar has over us.
Go into your pantry or fridge right now. Pick out three products that are marketed for your kids, and check the sugar content. Okay - so if it's a fruit based product, you may have naturally occurring sugars in there. Now go check the ingredients. I bet you sugar is in there somewhere (fructose, sucrose, natural cane sugar). It's absolutely crazy. Of course kids are going to love the stuff! And since little bodies are programmed to prefer sweetness even more so than adults are, it's easier to just say, well here have the sweet stuff since it's what you want, anyway.
So I have made a conscious decision to avoid added sugars as much as I can. I know it will be impossible to keep my son away from added sugar entirely, but if I can avoid sugar becoming an addiction for him, then I'm going to do it. A plus is that in the process of avoiding it for him, I have become more conscious of the amount of sugar I eat.
If this is something you think you would like to do for your child(ren), there are a few easy ways you can - they won't break the bank and you can make incremental changes that will add up in the long run!
1. Stick to whole foods as much as possible. I try to shop on the outsides of the grocery store, and buy foods I have to prepare myself. There are way fewer empty calories and additives. Do we eat processed food? Yes. But a large majority of the time, we are eating foods I have prepared myself.
2. Read labels. So for the last 6 months, I have been buying Stonyfield Farms Organic Plain Whole Milk Yogurt. They don't sell them in individual cartons, which is fine. I buy the 30 oz tub and just portion it out for him myself. I had searched for the Greek yogurt version before, but they never had it in the store. I thought I was doing so well because I wasn't giving him yogurt with added ingredients. I usually just stir in some cinnamon and maybe a little bit of honey, or some fruit, and he eats it without a problem. This past week, I finally found the Greek version - same brand, both whole milk. The Greek yogurt has nearly half the sugar and double the protein! Needless to say, Greek yogurt is what I'll be buying from now on.
3. Sub out products that are high in sugar. Back to the yogurt - Have you checked the sugar content in yogurt that has fruit already mixed in? LOADED with sugar. Which is why I buy it plain and mix in my own fruits or toppings. (The naturally occurring sugar in fruit is perfectly fine, because fruits also contain fiber, which means it takes longer for our bodies to break them down.) For snacks, I buy pre-sliced apple wedges and easy to eat fruits like blueberries. Plain Cheerios are also a great option, as are pre-cut veggies, hummus, and crackers like Original Triscuits.
4. Make fruits dessert. Instead of giving Caleb cookies or cake for dessert, I always top him off with fruit. He loves berries, so that's usually my go-to. But watermelon, mango, and papaya have all been hits, and as a bonus, I love them too, so I replace my dessert with those as well.
5. Pay special attention to breakfast. So many breakfast foods have so much added sugar. I already discussed the yogurt, but cereals and oatmeal can all contain super high amounts of sugar. For oatmeal, I use plain old fashioned oats and add in fruit, cinnamon, some vanilla, and maybe a little honey (to up the protein content I make it with milk). Caleb also eats waffles or pancakes a few times a week. I buy waffles that are low in sugar (like Earth's Best or Van's Power Protein waffles), and honestly, he eats them dry. If I serve them with yogurt, he dips them in the yogurt (which makes for a fun clean up). If not, he alternates the waffles with fruit. I have also made my own sugar free jam from overripe fruits, and we also top them with that. It works for us! For bread and grain products, I always look for whole grains and again, always check the sugar content.
6. Say no to juice! Juice, chocolate milk, and sodas are such huge culprits. They are filled with sugar and have zero nutritional value. Even if they are natural fruit juices, unless they are blended, you have taken all the fiber out of the fruit and have been left with just the sugar. I let him have juice at birthday parties, but that's about it. He actually loves water and loves it even more when it has ice, so I have stuck to that.
If you think it's something you want to do, make some small changes slowly, one week at a time. Eventually, you'll get to where you want to be! I know I will never completely give up sugar myself nor will I ever deny him a treat if it's in his face. But by keeping the sugary treats to a minimum at home, they really become just a treat when we are out at a birthday party or having an ice cream cone on vacation, and not something that he must have all the time.
Some people think I'm a little extreme, but his health is more important to me than other people's opinions, and I know that I am doing what is best for him.
P.S. Any thoughts on this? Any more tips to share? E-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I'd love to hear them!