Living in a culture bombarded with sugar and processed food is a challenge to any parent working towards raising healthy children. It is around every corner, every aisle, at every birthday party, and in almost every grandmother’s purse. How can we satisfy our children while still providing healthy choices? The most popular flavor kids want in today’s world is sweet, sweet, sweet. The sweet flavor has developed a bad reputation because of all the refined sweet treats that sneak into our daily snacks, breakfast cereals, and even peanut butters and tomato sauce. Actually, a balance of sweet with all the other flavors: bitter, sour, pungent and salty, is important to bring balance to the individual. The full sweet flavor, when in balance, is a harmonizing and relaxing food. Sweet is the flavor of the earth element, according to traditional Chinese medicine, and is also associated with the nurturing mother energy found in most of our very first foods, out own mothers breast milk. Sweetness is Earth’s taste, and when it is out of balance we will crave sweet things, because natural sweetness is what feeds and nourishes the Earth element in each of us. Therefore, when we eat balanced sweet foods, such as succulent fruits, brown rice, or oatmeal, we are getting a more balanced flavor that is very nourishing to both the palate and to our internal energetics.
On the other hand, table sugar requires extra effort to digest because it lacks vitamins, minerals and fiber. The typical processing of sugar strips necessary nutrients, so our body depletes its own store of minerals and enzymes to absorb it properly. Sugar is hence described as empty calories. Instead of providing the body with nutrition, sugar causes a deficiency. One great way to monitor the ways to balance our sweet tooth is through the glycemic index ratings of food. The glycemic index is a ranking of foods based on their immediate effect on blood sugar levels. Carbohydrate and sugars that breakdown quickly during digestion have the highest glycemic indexes. They create a blood sugar response is fast and high. Carbohydrates and sugars that breakdown slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the bloodstream, have low glycemic indexes.
Refined sugar has the highest gylcemic index on the chart. Children (and parents too) react to white sugar like a drug. They often experiencing a fast “high” followed by a crash of some kind, usually feeling tired, hungry and/or emotional. If you notice this type of pattern in your child, check into the time of day and see if you can see any specific pattern around sugar or high glycemic carbohydrates. For example if your child eats a pop-tart for breakfast, how are they feeling an hour to an hour and a half later? Do they have a hard time focusing in school, do they act out, are they tired and lethargic, moody and irritable? These could all be symptoms of blood sugar crashes that could easily be remedied by some simple changes in diet.
Even foods like potatoes, refined honey and some fruits have a relatively high glycemic index. When we are working to balance our childrens' diet throughout the day, it is important to monitor what type of sweet foods they may be enjoying. Choose sweeteners such as rice syrup, agave syrup, maple syrup, or xylitol for teas, baking, sweet toppings etc. These varieties digest slower, and are therefore lower on the glycemic index scale and are considered more of a “full sweet” flavor.
>65 GI: These are foods that have 4 or more times the amount of sugar (grams) as fiber (grams).
Sugar White Rice Soda White Potato Dried Cereal Juice (non-diluted)
Moderate Glycemic Foods
45-65 GI: These foods have no more than 3 times the amount of sugar (grams) as fiber (grams).
Brown Rice Sweet Potato Raw Honey Maple Syrup
Low Glycemic Foods
<45 GI: These foods have sugar (grams) and fiber(grams) equal to each other.
Apple Agave Syrup Animal protein Oatmeal (steal cut) Beware of breakfast cereals, as well as yogurts, salad dressing, and juice drinks, all often containing straight up sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or even artificial sweeteners.
It may sound overwhelming to be shifting your lifestyle to a more health conscious one, especially with children in the picture, but keep in mind, new habits can form quickly and easily and I am not suggesting we deprive our children of sweet flavors, but more simply, upgrade the quality and the combination of how we eat our food.
Here are some simple suggestions:
• In any given recipe, substitute a more natural sweetener in place of a refined sugar. Most of the time 1:1ratio will work just fine. • Read ingredients carefully and purchase foods with healthier sweeteners. Avoid white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. • Keep empty sweets (i.e.sugar) out of the house so children (and parents!) are not tempted. • Model for your children. Eat healthier more balanced foods yourself, and the ripple effect will flow down to the children. Talk to your children about healthy food choices, food groups,and choosing higher quality sweets. • Feed your children a low glycemic breakfast that contains a healthy serving of protein. Studies show that this will curb sugar cravings through out the day, and children will crave up to 80% less sugar/refined carbohydrates.
If your child is craving sugar all the time there may be a couple of reasons. Firstly, they may be addicted. Their blood sugar looks something like a roller coaster and their bodies are expecting the next sugar spike to bring them back up. Secondly, when there is a constant craving for sweets, the body may be protein deficient. When the body has all the different food groups in balance, and the blood sugar is stable, sweet cravings should not be overwhelming.
Remember, the best form of sweetness we can give our children is the sweetness from the heart!