Friday, April 2, 2010

Our addiction to sugar

After watching Food, Inc., I expected to be more moved than I was. Although I did learn a lot and listening to farmers’ stories was a perspective I had never gotten before, most of the information, I already knew. There were several things that stood out to me though, one statistic in particular “1 in 3 of those born after 2000 will develop early on-set diabetes.” Another piece of this statistic is the fact that this is the first generation who will not live as long as their parents…now if that isn’t something that gets you thinking, I don’t know what will. That is truly frightening to me, probably more than all the horrific details that go into our meat centered eating, which may sound strange but let me explain.

First of all, because of my optimism and belief that knowledge is power, I believe that the shift to us eating less meat and more people realizing the economical, environmental, animal welfare and health benefits of a veggie or low-meat lifestyle will be inevitable. It just makes too much sense for it not to become more and more normal, and maybe part of it is because I live in Austin, Texas where there are quite a few veggie friendly restaurants and grocers and many people living what is currently called ‘alternative lifestyles’ when it comes to food. So, although I agree with the message of Food, Inc., I think the scariest of all the information had to do with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s), namely the obscene uses of corn and our addiction to sugar.

The reason I feel like sugar is one of our biggest issues is that it truly is an addiction that once on that hamster wheel it is extremely difficult to get off of. The fact that sugar can be found in almost all prepackaged foods in one form or another, whether it’s high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), dextrose, fructose, cane sugar, etc. and don’t even get me started on all the sugar substitutes that hide in just about anything and everything, makes it nearly impossible to avoid. Because, as it’s mentioned in Food, Inc., we are programmed to respond to three tastes (salt, fat and sweet), manufacturers put either loads of salt and/or sugar/sweetener in their foods (especially if they are billed as low-fat/fat free) making them appeal to our need for these tastes.

As I’ve mentioned before, some of our parenting choices are looked at as a bit kooky, even by our well-meaning, supportive and loving parents. After reading Sarah Kamrath’s article,, I was struck by her statement that she felt little resistance to avoiding refined sugar with her five-year-old son. Although our friends probably think we go overboard with the whole sugar restriction, the biggest surprise for me is the overwhelming need of our daughter’s grandparents to push sugary treats on her in spite of our desire to limit them. She did not have any refined sugar before her first birthday and I was delighted to see her more interested in destroying her birthday cake than actually eating it. This in fact was my intent when I decided that we would be limiting her sugar intake, with less exposure you have less desire for these tastes. But feeding her some sugary treat was like a mad mission of her grandparents when they would visit.

Given the fact that we have diabetes on both sides of our family, I am further amazed that our parents do not fully respect our decision to limit her sugar intake more. Unfortunately, it seems in our country, sugary treats are seen as an expectation of growing up and who doesn’t want to see a child’s eyes light up with excitement when they taste something sweet? I guess I just can’t see that light in her eyes without feeling a sickening in the pit of my stomach that here I am with the power (currently, because I am not naive enough to believe I will always be able to control what she puts in her mouth) to control what she eats and I am allowing her to acquire a taste for something that literally could lead to serious illness and early death. I understand the addiction to sugar, I grew up loving the taste of candy, cookies and cake (as well as the other 2 tastes of salt and fat) and still struggle with resisting those urges, and because of it have struggled myself with excess weight and consequently gestational diabetes, so why wouldn’t I want to help shield my daughter from this struggle by preventing or at least curbing the desire for these tastes from the beginning.

The fact of the matter is that most sweet cravings can be satiated with a juicy orange, a crunchy apple or even a carrot. True, you shouldn’t over do it on fruit either but I would much rather have my daughter begging for another piece of fruit, the sugar of which is easily digested and absorbed by our bodies, than a sugary piece of candy or cake that will cause a blood sugar spike and ensuing melt down. I am all for having a treat here and there but in order for it to be considered a treat and not a normal event, it must happen rarely. I like to think that our daughter has improved our life in many ways, one of which is strengthening our desire to live a healthier lifestyle, which includes eating less meat, less sugar and a more varied diet of veggies.

With the holiday weekend upon us I find myself filled with dread as I will yet again be the only parent at a gathering concerned with limiting the sugar intake of my child. I have to become the police, always with a watchful eye on either another child or worse, another parent, slipping her some candy without my knowledge or consent. It makes for a stressful time especially considering that she will want to have what the other kids are eating so enthusiastically and once she has one taste the games begin with her begging for more and me either giving in ‘just one more time’ or having to continue to say no and having an even closer watchful eye that she doesn’t go to someone else for it. It’s no picnic to feel like I’m alone on this island and being criticized for my limits and even though my dearest does support me, he is much more willing to give in to the whole ‘it’s a party’ or ‘it’s a holiday’ excuse to give her more. So, this weekend when you are approached by someone else’s child who wants some candy, try checking with their parents first and don’t assume the answer is going to be yes. I’m fine with being the bad guy in this instance because I feel like it is my job, my duty to protect my child from all the dangers in the world, even if it is disguised as a bright pink pillowy soft bunny covered in sparkly sugar.

1 comment:

  1. What a great post. I feel EXACTLY the same as you. We just watched Food, Inc and it has changed the way I eat - although I was pretty healthy to begin with. My mom also provides TONS of sugary snacks to my kids - and when I ask her to stop - she sneaks it. But luckily they don't like a lot of it and have no qualms about throwing it out. Then there is school. I can't stand that teachers give kids candy as a reward for good academics. Especially when a lot of it contains artificial colors which have been linked to ADHD, etc. A lot of people really need to wake up! We should only be eating what we find in nature - nothing manufactured if we can avoid it. I have taught my kids to read ingredients - and if they can't read the word, they shouldn't eat it. Naturally we crave sugar - which is meant to get us to eat fruit. We crave fat so that we can survive in times of famine. Salt so we can retain water. Its all natural cravings that have been twisted around by the media to make money - and to get us addicted to their products. YUCK! I recently found a book at a library sale called, "If You Love Me, Don't Feed Me Junk." Its pretty good. I leave it lying around when my mom visits. Oh, and I don't let my kids watch tv. That is part of the sugar addiction problem I think. Thanks for writing this!