Sugar: 7 Reasons to Break the Addiction

Baby eating a sugar lollipop

Several articles and studies in the past week give even more reason to consciously and relentlessly reduce sugar in your family’s diet, especially in the diet of your children as they grow and develop.

Sugar consumption is high, probably higher than you realize. Sugar isn’t just in cookies, ice cream, and sodas. Sugar sneaks into places you wouldn’t expect to find it: canned soup, mass-produced bread, processed meats, Kraft dinner, ketchup.

Statistics Canada reports that the average Canadian consumes 110 grams (or 26 teaspoons) of sugar a day. That’s over half a cup of sugar a day. Why not just wake up to a glass of water and pour in half a cup of sugar. Mmm. Sounds, well, terrible. Even if the number is half that, as the Canadian Sugar Institute claims, it seems high when you translate that into 44-88 lbs or 20-40 kg a year.

Just pause to visualize that much sugar. Not so appetizing all at once.

That fact is, the average North American is eating a lot of sugar.

This past week, National Geographic and TIME magazine published features on sugar, and a new study from the University of Utah suggests that the effects of sugar are far more than just weight gain.

What Is the Effect of Sugar?

1. Sugar leads to disease. Sugar overload can lead to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and higher risk of heart attack. The process of metabolic disease is clear.

2. Sugar leaves you without enough energy to exercise away the extra calories it leaves. Double whammy.

3. Sugar’s effect on your body is addictive. Sure, the immediate effect is pleasurable, as is the effect of cocaine or heroin, but most of us know enough not to slide down that slippery slope.

4. Sugar is toxic to you. To quote TIME on a new study published this week, “even safe levels of sugar could have serious negative effects on people’s health.”

5. Sugar shortens your life, at least it may have subtle biological effects that lead to shorter lives. Research is ongoing in this area, but findings point to higher mortality.

One of the researchers on the Utah study released this week said in the Salt Lake Tribune,

“I think the big takeaway is the level of sugar we readily eat and think is safe causes major health declines in mice. . . . We’re not just talking about some minor metabolic thing. We’re taking about increased rates of death and [lower rates] of reproduction.”

6. Sugar or marry your cousin? A diet high in sugar has similar effects to inbreeding—at least in a recent study with mice. To quote my local paper on this local study: “Would you rather be on the American diet … or have parents be full cousins?’ said senior author Wayne Potts, a biology professor. ‘This data is telling us it’s a toss up.’”

7. Sugar can even make you stupid, or so it appears from a different rat study. National Geographic quoted the study researcher: “‘I was very shocked to see how strong an effect these diets could have on the brain—I have high concern that the foods people eat can really affect mood and cognition,’ Gomez-Pinilla said.”

How I’ve Handled Sugar with My Children

My solution when my children were very young was not to forbid sugar, since I didn’t want it to become the desired thing they binged on away from home, but to give them no refined sugar at home and allow some away from home. I had to have grandparents’ cooperation in this, since they were the sugar pushers.

Now that my children are older and more logical, we can talk through the consequences of lack of nutritional control. We even took a college class together on nutrition to keep our discussions science based. They know how they feel when they overeat junk food or super-sweet food, and they don’t like it. I don’t have to exert MY control as a parent because they are exercising their own self control.

This is not to say that we don’t still have trouble. Having read the recent articles in National Geographic and TIME magazines, I know we have to push our sugar consumption even lower. What we think of as moderation is not moderate. It’s exceedingly high consumption of sugar, and our bodies did not evolve to handle this onslaught.

Don’t just replace refined-sugar sweets with other sweets. Get past the sugar addiction yourself and don’t let it grow in your children. I know that just makes it sound easy, and I know that it isn’t actually easy if you are stuck on sugar. But, your health and your children’s health and normal development depend on it.

Even though it can be difficult, just do it.

Recent articles on the effects of sugar

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Partners in Parenting: Profile

Tamara Champion at bynature.ca store in Orillia

One of the reasons we wanted to have a store front in our town of Orillia is to make face-to-face connections with our customers. Recently, our local paper, the Orillia Packet & Times, published a profile of Parenting by Nature and owner, Tamara Champion. Tamara’s focus on what her community needs and what parents need is clear in the profile.

“We want to be a partner in parenting by helping parents find the information and products they need to give their children the gift of a healthier, better life and future,” said Champion, who has an exhaustive questionnaire for companies that want to sell their wares at bynature.ca. “To me, it’s not all about making money. It’s about educating people, it’s about minimizing our impact on the planet… that’s what’s important.”

Read the full profile of Parenting by Nature, and you will find out:

  1. What is happening with the space above our store
  2. What kind of work Tamara was doing before babies & bynature.ca
  3. Why the store and Tamara’s family ended up in Orillia

Breastfeeding Research in the News

Doctor talking to a mother

When the British Medical Journal two weeks ago published a review paper, an opinion piece, on the nutritional INadequacy of the World Health Organization’s recommendation that infants exclusively breastfeed for six month, a wave of media coverage followed. As often happens, the adequacy of the publication was of less importance in media coverage than the potential audience share that fear-based headlines could pull in.

A few articles did point out that the review acknowledges that 3 of 4 authors “have performed consultancy work and/or received research funding from companies manufacturing infant formulas and baby foods within the past three years.” This seems like a very interesting point worth pursuing, especially in light of the historical context of marketing breastmilk replacement products globally and the original catalysts to the WHO recommendations.

Just planting a doubt in a mother’s mind can sometimes be enough to change behavior. The use of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) through careful so-called research or careful framing but avoidance of research is a tried and true propaganda technique. Unfortunately, it works.


Backlash Against Poor Research

Responses to the review on the British Medical Journal (BMJ) website, including those by researchers active in the field, by physicians, by activists, and by interested observers, bring up interesting points about the quality and content of the view as well as about the context. Research is not conducted in a vacuum. Researchers have life experiences, personal interests, and paid positions to protect. Peer review is intended to bring up issues within the design and execution of the research, but it seldom addresses the hidden push and pull that subtly shapes outcomes and reports. Having spent a good portion of my life in graduate school and specifically addressing the biases of scientific research in my doctoral work, I know how flexible the concept of “truth” can sometimes be. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

The BMJ will no doubt publish formal responses. There will probably be women who were looking for a reason not to keep breastfeeding who find it in superficial news stories. Serious breastfeeding research will continue. And, policymakers will keep looking for ways to support exclusive breastfeeding as the best way to feed babies.

The review was published January 13, 2011. Since then, on January 20, 2011, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.” This is not a quick response but an extensive report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They have made it easy for community members to understand what they can do to support breastfeeding.

“A study published last year in the journal Pediatrics estimated that the nation would save $13 billion per year in health care and other costs if 90 percent of U.S. babies were exclusively breastfed for six months. . . . ‘I believe that we as a nation are beginning to see a shift in how we think and talk about breastfeeding,’ said Dr. Benjamin. ‘With this “Call to Action,” I am urging everyone to help make breastfeeding easier.’”
Everyone Can Help Make Breastfeeding Easier, Surgeon General Says in “Call to Action”

Health Canada also has a very short open period for comments on “Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants – Recommendations from Birth to Six Months,” their “evidence-informed recommendations to assist health professionals in communicating consistent guidance on infant nutrition to Canadian parents and caregivers.”

Policymakers understand that breastfed babies are healthy babies, and, among all of the other benefits, healthy babies save money. Your reasons and mine for breastfeeding might be closer to home, but it is easy to see that the support is widespread outside circles where there is profit to be made from breastmilk substitutes or early weaning foods.

When it comes down to it, most women aren’t reading research papers. They want to do the best for their babies, and they trust their healthcare providers and others in positions to support their choices. Yesterday, January 25, 2011, TIME Magazine published an article about U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin’s call for community support of breastfeeding: “It takes a village to help moms succeed.” We may not want to be swayed so easily, but the messages we get in the media about parenting influence us. Not all of those messages are negative. I embrace those messages that ask us to support women rather than isolating them in fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Next week, we’ll look at research into breastfeeding support.

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