It’s a hard, cold fact: Everyone loves sweet treats. But, the overall effects of sugar, and hidden sugar in particular, is creating a kids health crisis in America. Now, thanks to expanded food labeling and a new book, Sugarproof, parents can arm themselves with a sugar detecting toolkit and a plan to break free from sugar addiction by waking up their kids’ sugar-dulled taste buds.
Sugarproof came about after decades of research by Dr. Michael Goran, Ph.D, a professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and Dr. Emily Ventura, Ph.D, a nutrition expert and cook. Their goal: empowering parents to cut back radically on both the obvious sugar sources and the hidden sugars present in their family’s everyday meals.
“Just over 10 years ago, we started to see a pretty clear pattern in our research related to sugar consumption and its effects in children,” Dr. Goran tells Parentology. “Originally we weren’t necessarily looking specifically at sugar, just at diet in general and trying to identify patterns of relationships between risks and sugar just kept popping up.”
These effects include behavior issues like hyperactivity and ADHD, obesity, dangerously high levels of blood lipids, fat wrapped around internal organs, and a set up for possible early dementia and even increased cancer risk.
Goran and Ventura’s approach, however, isn’t extremist, it’s realistic. “We’re not trying to be the sugar police. We’re trying to make people more aware of the hidden dangers, the hidden sugars and all the hidden effects of it. The effects that parents might not equate with sugar,” Goran comments.
Identifying Hidden Sugars
The book itself is uncannily prescient; the FDA just announced new food labeling standards that make it easier to spot added sugars once camouflaged through creative naming (added sugars can masquerade under about 200 different names on a food label).
“I think that was a coincidence, but I think that’s just a result of our research and other people’s research that was showing the effects of added sugars. What we have in the book that we were ahead of the field on was the new dietary guidelines, which are now saying no added sugars for infants between zero and two years of age,” Goran says.
One of the biggest misconceptions parents have about sugar is that it’s easy to moderate, or simply not that concerning. Goran and Ventura feel that sugar moderation, especially in kids, is something that must be taught. And the education has to begin with parents recognizing that sugar hides in processed, common, and convenient foods.
Such a task demands a sugar reset, in order to jolt the taste buds out of their sugar coma. For this, Sugarproof offers two different resets for whole families — a seven-day regimen of no added sugar, and a more challenging 28-day regimen.
“We can reset that taste preference and it can happen pretty quickly. It’s an addiction, so it can be difficult as well for a couple of days. But after those couple of days, what we’re seeing is that kids and adults have a reawakening of other tastes because those receptors are so strong and so hyperactive and so overwhelming that they tend to overwhelm the other tastes. So you can definitely reset that, [and] that next time you make the cookies, you’ll probably be more satisfied with half as much sugar or 25% less sugar,” Goran explains.
Resetting Is a Family Affair
Whether families opt for a seven-day or a 28-day reset, the results can be profound.
Mom Leah Anne Sernas put her family on the 28-day challenge, and while she met with some initial confusion and resistance, she’s pleased.
“It was super surprising how much sugar I tolerated my children ingesting and that’s something I learnt through the 28-day challenge,” Sernas tells Parentology. “I also didn’t realize how much sugar was present in convenient foods, especially packaged granola and sauces. I appreciated all the suggestions of alternatives I could use to sugar and it’s great to constantly refer back to the book for more kid-friendly options.”
She also noticed that while the adjustment was initially challenging there were positive behavioral changes. She says the kids were “much, much nicer and better behaved” after a high protein breakfast with eggs versus a sugary breakfast. “I do think a good protein meal to start the day also helps to minimize extremes in behavior,” she says.
Parent Kathryn Lowery did the seven-day challenge with her family. What she found great were the recipes and resources Sugerproof gave her.
“Goran and Ventura offer a reliable and straightforward theory-based approach, encouraging family-based solutions, including easy steps like engaging children in the shopping and cooking process, which will inspire kids to adopt healthier eating habits and the ability to self-regulate sugar,” Lowery tells Parentology.
Indeed, Sugarproof includes 39 food and beverage recipes that help parents and kids make the no added sugar adjustment without feeling too deprived.
Warning: Natural Sugar and Sugar Substitutes Aren’t Better
When parents think about sugar, they often consider “natural” sugar sources like honey, coconut sugar, juices, and agave as somehow healthier. But they’re not.
“Parents may think juice is healthy or yogurt is healthy, but there’s a ton of hidden sugars in there,” Goran explains. Likewise, even “no sugar added” juice can be problematic because in juicing a fruit you throw away the fiber and other nutrients. The sugars become very concentrated in liquid form.
Apple juice, a kid favorite, is actually higher in fructose than soda. “If you compared a glass of juice with a glass of soda with high fructose corn syrup, most parents would think of high fructose corn syrup as evil. Apple juice can actually have even more fructose than high fructose corn syrup, but it doesn’t have the name. It has a healthy name,” Goran says.
Sugar substitutes like aspartame, stevia, and monk fruit might not pack the caloric punch of real sugar, but according to Goran they’re still counterproductive.
“Studies show, for example, that kids or adults who habitually consume sweeteners end up consuming more calories during the day. And that’s because you’re tricking the body into feeling that you’ve eaten but there’s no energy coming in. So, if your body thinks there’s a lot of energy coming in it’s going to extract it out of the blood when it’s not there to begin with. You end up getting hungry because your body wants to replace them,” Goran says.
The goal of the reset is to lessen sugar’s grip on kids by changing the way their taste buds perceive it. Then, hopefully, the kids learn to moderate sweet treats themselves in a healthy way.
Goran explains this moderation as: “They’re not eating the huge piece of cake, huge amount of candy, and a ton of cookies. They know that it’s okay to have some of it but not all of it. That they understand that they’re aware of the hidden sugars and how it’s affecting their body. They naturally know what their limit is without having to be told.”
Break Free of Sugar Addiction
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