Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Is Sugar Free that hard to grasp?

If you can grasp nut-free, wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and egg-free why not sugar-free.
Why is sugar free so hard to respect?

We all know we can’t take nuts into schools, kindys or daycare these days. There are children at risk of anaphylactic shock and so we obey these rules. For the good of these children we know, with a few small changes, we can look after them to the best of our ability.  Birthday cakes that are taken into school or kindy should be nut-free – no big deal, we can make that small change to our usual recipe and we do so willingly.  For a parent of a child eating wheat- or gluten-free almond flour is potentially a go-to substitute for regular flour so it may take a little thought but throw in some coconut flour and you’re away. A little thought needed, yes, a little inconvenient for some, yes – but necessary and accepted all the same.

Many children and adults are removing wheat from their diet also. If your child is suffering from eczema or other inflammatory conditions and you are told they may be affected by wheat you remove it from their diet and you expect other people to follow these dietary guidelines for the good of your child. Again, no questions asked. Same with dairy – no one argues when you declare your child is on goats milk or another milk substitute (hopefully not soy, but more on that another time).

Eggs are another one, shell fish and gluten. All seemingly acceptable exemptions from our modern day diet due to modern day issues and conditions.

So why is sugar free so hard to grasp? No-one questions the removal of nuts, wheat, eggs or dairy because it is for the good of the child yet sugar-free is questioned. No one would sneak ‘just a tiny bit’ of nuts to the child who could go into shock or dairy to the child riddled with eczema yet, ‘just a little bit’ of sugar is okay. No-one gives the child allergic to eggs some anyway because everyone else is eating eggs and the child ‘must be missing out’. Yet being made to feel you are depriving your child or causing them to miss out on sugary junk is not uncommon.

Maybe its because most of the other symptoms are visible ones – you can see a child’s eczema and relate to how awful it must be for that child. You see a child taken to hospital after an allergic reaction to nuts, shellfish or eggs. But what about those reactions that we can’t see – what is going on in the brain of a young child that has child who has consumed a piece of cake, a coke or a glazed donut? What about the irrational and uncontrollable behavior the huge sugar hit can cause on a tiny body? And the crash? Experiencing emotions and learning to deal with feelings can be overwhelming at a young age anyway – do these children need even more to battle with?

I got in touch with fellow health and fitness expert, Rhiannon Lovell, who specializes and has lots of experience in working with both children and adults with both physical and behavioral difficulties which are often caused by the foods they consume. This is what she had to say on this topic

"As the mum of two beautiful young kiddies, a son with multiple food allergies and intolerances (I think Jen was talking about my child above!) and my daughter who has mildly food intolerances. I know first-hand the experience of daily dietary restrictions…...including (shock horror!) the removal of sugar!  

Our journey prior to the removal of sugar from our family household has been an interesting one, driven by the attempt to help my son manage his allergies, eczema and asthma.  It has included many different elimination diets, supplements and alternative therapies, however the one thing that was always outstanding was the sugar issue.

It was obvious to us the effect that sugar had on our kids…particularly my son.  Erratic behavior, difficulty managing emotions, anxiety and insomnia are just some of the side effects.  After my daughter has been to a birthday party (the one place we let go of the reigns!) her behavior is monstrous!

A lot of the mainstream research says that sugar is fine for kids, it causes no behavioral issues or side effects.  That may have been the case many years ago, however these days children’s bodies are constantly being bombarded with different environmental stresses and toxins and sugar just adds to the onslaught.

Through much research and trial and error, here’s what I know about sugar and kids:

All kids love sugar.  Breast milk is naturally sweet, so they develop a palate for sweetness at an    early age.  This sweetness used to be satisfied through a piece of fruit and the consumption of healthy fats, these days access to processed, sugar laden foods is far easier than food preparation.

Sugar affects the developing brains of kids.  How?  A significant portion of our neurotransmitters in our brain are linked to our gut. It’s called the Gut-Brain Connection…google it.  The basic premise is that if our children’s guts are not receiving adequate nutrition, neither is their brain.  This has massive implications in learning and behavioral disorders.

Sugar has an immune suppressing effect.  It messes with their biochemistry on a cellular level and sends their stress hormones haywire.  Have you ever noticed the heightened behavioral response from kids after consuming sugar and the subsequent crash that follows?  This is not great at all for their developing bodies due to the cellular inflammation it creates..

Sugar directly affects insulin levels.  When these levels become out-of-whack kids are at high risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes….a chronic modern day disease that is driven by purely lifestyle factors.

Fruit contains sugar.  Yes it’s natural; however fruit contains fructose which is a tricky little molecule.  It manages to bypass all the other sugar processing routes and is processed by the liver and converted directly to fat.  I am not saying kids don’t need fruit, they do, just not 5 pieces a day.  If they crave it, it’s the sugar they crave.

So how can you reduce the sugar load in your household?

Start gradually!  If you go cold turkey, you will go through a withdrawal phase and trust me it’s not pretty….but interesting to observe the hold that sugar has on us though!

Introduce more plant based snacks such as vege sticks and dips such as hummus and cannellini beans.  Great for balancing the blood sugar.

Use nourishing fats like coconut oil (fantastic for gut health!) and butter (unless you are dairy allergic, then use ghee) in your cooking and baking.  Coconut oil is a fantastic source of immediate energy for kids.  Fat is your friend!

Opt for lower fructose fruits such as berries for snacks.  They are delicious in smoothies!

Start reading labels and learn as much as you can about the hidden sugars in foods…they are in breakfast cereals, tinned products, breads, crackers and numerous other conveniences.

When baking I use Rice Malt, Stevia or poached fruit as a sugar substitute. 

Getting rid of sugar from your families diet can be challenging and you will have blowouts…we all do, that’s part of being human.  However the change in our household (from ALL of us, not just the kids!) after getting rid of sugar has been amazing.  Behavior has settled down, food reactions have minimized, homework is getting done and even my husband and I have clearer heads and less tiredness.  It’s all fantastically positive!"

So, from two mums passionate about sugar-free if we can help you to improve your child’s health and behavior we will be happy! You can help us to spread the sugar-free message and realise that when we say we don’t give our children sugar they are not missing out. We have made a decision to do the best possible thing for the wellbeing of our children, just like those parents of children with seemingly more serious allergies or difficulties.


Heatlhy Kids Eat Plants said...

Can you tell me more about why you don't think Soy is OK?

Unknown said...

Soy - think of an edamame bean and think of soy milk - how many processes does the edamame bean have to go through to result in the milk? its certainly not just squished a bit and the milk comes out! To me anything that is that highly processed has a warning label on it

Unknown said...

What about almond milk? Is it processed so much that their is no benefit. And Jen, how do you go about other mums bringing birthday cake to your son's school? Does he have some cake with the other kids? When my child starts pre school extra, I want to have a no sugar rule for him too, but I know other mums will have sugar birthday cakes which will be hard for my son while others are eating cake. And how do I trust the teacher on this?