The Power of Sweeteners and Considerations
Although I tried to monitor their sugar intake, I wish I had been a little more relaxed and allowed my girls to enjoy occasional sugar treats at birthday parties and social events. That would have given them the opportunity to feel the effects of sugar, and then I could have prepared remedies afterward to bring them back to balance. They say now that the restriction of not having sugar made them want it more as they grew older. Sweets in social situations can be a temptation for your child, as well as part of “fitting in.” As a parent, you may find it tough to balance between that temptation and discipline to find a harmonious and healthy equilibrium.
However, I do believe that a daily no-sugar diet and cultivating your baby’s taste for natural sweetness is one of the most valuable gifts you can give him. Offering natural snacks and desserts can help satisfy your child’s desire for sweets without the detriments of refined sugar. If you build a foundation that orients your child’s taste buds toward whole foods, he can feel the pleasures, as well as the discomforts of sugar, and learn by experiencing nature’s law of cause and effect. You can also help manage your child’s sugar cravings by monitoring his salt intake.
Refined white sugar contains over 99.9 percent sucrose and has no nutritional value—no complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, proteins, vitamins, or minerals. Sugar contributes to weight gain and obesity and can upset your baby’s insulin levels. Unlike a whole grain or protein-rich food, which offers sustained energy, refined sugar converts into an immediate burst of energy. This high is followed by an energy dip once all of the sugars have been processed, which ultimately feels like energy is being taken away from his body.
Refined sugars can depress the immune system, making your baby susceptible to colds and infections. This is because glucose and vitamin C have similar chemical structures. When sugar levels go up, glucose blocks vitamin C transport to white blood cells, which diminishes their ability to protect against viruses and bacteria.
Another negative effect of refined sugar is tooth decay, which can begin at an early age. Young children who have prolonged exposure to refined sugar are much more prone to tooth decay. According to the American Dental Association, as soon as sugar comes into contact with the mouth, bacteria produce acid that facilitate the decay process.
Babies and children need natural sweetness, and they can find it in complex carbohydrates like grains and beans, as well as sweet vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. In addition to these foods, you can introduce your baby to sweets with brown rice syrup and amazake, a Japanese drink made from fermented rice. Richer sweeteners, like honey and maple syrup can be used in baking and desserts.
Research confirms that refined sugars are a leading contributor of the obesity epidemics sprouting up across the world. The Centers for Disease Control says that as of 2012, 35.7 percent of U.S. adults over 20 are obese. This trend is permeating into early childhood, with overweight babies as young as six months. Overweight and obese children are at increased risk for developing chronic conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, hypertension, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and asthma.
Robert Lustig, MD, a pediatrician from the UC San Francisco School of Medicine, specializing in childhood obesity, conducted a study in 2009 that linked the high consumption of refined sugar to increasing rates of childhood obesity. His studies concluded that sugar is an addictive toxin, and he advocated for refined sugar regulation. At this point, the FDA has not regulated sugar, nor has it issued a recommended daily intake for nutrition labels.
White, brown, raw, and cane sugars, corn syrup, and fructose are all refined sugars. Organic or conventional growing and packaging processes do not distinguish whether a sugar is refined or not. Aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, and other artificial sweeteners are marketed for sugar-free diets and weight control, but are significantly sweeter than regular sugar, and they are not recommended for pregnant and nursing mothers or babies and young children.
High-fructose Corn Syrup
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), sometimes called corn sugar, has become a popular ingredient in sodas and fruit-flavored drinks. Despite being the most commonly added sweetener in processed foods and beverages, it is an additive that is associated with many health concerns. A team of Princeton University researchers found that when lab animals consumed the same amount of sugar, those with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to regular table sugar. They also found a higher spike in body fat and triglycerides in the animals consuming high-fructose corn syrup.
Thus, evidence suggests that the increased use of high-fructose corn syrup in soft drinks and processed foods coincides with the increased rate of obesity and obesity-related health problems. High-fructose corn syrup usually contains genetically modified organisms.
Glycemic index of sugars
When carbohydrates are digested, glucose is released into your baby’s bloodstream and becomes his body’s main source of energy. The glycemic index (GI) is a comparative measurement of the amount of glucose released by a particular food over a two- to three-hour period. Foods, such as complex carbohydrates and legumes release glucose slowly, providing sustained and steady energy. These foods rate low on the glycemic index. Fruit and foods containing refined sugar release glucose rapidly, which causes a short-lived energy spike followed by a dive. Foods with this effect rate high on the glycemic index scale.
Which sweeteners does your family use? Share with other parents and caregivers in the comments below!