Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sweets & Nutrition - Refined Sugar

After reading various allergy-free blogs, vegan blogs, and cookbooks, I've noticed many recipes which omit wheat, eggs, dairy, and other common allergens also include high amounts of refined sugar and chocolate in baked goods. While homemade is of course always better than processed food, I am re-thinking the use of refined sugar even in homemade cooking.

With the recent Valentine's Day holiday, my daughter brought home a few sweets from preschool - thankfully they save all the kids' treats and give them to the parents (so she didn't even know she had most of them). Earlier in the week she had a very small piece of chocolate from preschool that I allowed her to have - against my better judgment. In a relapse moment, I was feeling guilty for not letting my daughter have sugar & chocolate like other kids and I was disillusioned into the concept that kids should learn how to manage addictive foods early. I let her have the chocolate, and my daughter didn't take her nap and we dealt with tantrums all afternoon and the next day.

My husband says the argument about letting kids learn how to manage sugar is like teaching the budding alcoholic how to "hold his liquor." It simply doesn't make sense to give very addictive foods to very young children and expect them to learn how to handle it.

This issue really concerns me, as there was recently an article in the Washington Post that 50% of the high-fructose corn syrup on the market contains mercury. Many foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup are given to children.

My personal strategy is to avoid all processed, refined foods - especially those that contain high-fructose corn syrup (in the regular grocery store, this is difficult - easier at Whole Foods). In my own baking at home I have experimented with using refined white sugar - but cutting it in half - for a special occasion. If I know my kids are going to be around lots of processed foods like Twinkies (say, at a preschool party), then I'll bake with a small amount of refined sugar and make sure I can tempt my kids enough to only eat what I brought (this has been very successful lately, but I'm not sure how long it will last). For any treat we make at home, I use maple sugar, honey, brown rice syrup or molasses in place of sugar and carob in place of chocolate. When there are no outside influences, my kids seem more than fulfilled.

Yes, I realize that maple sugar, molasses, honey, etc. are still sugars and should be limited; yet I have to believe that they at least hold more nutritional value than refined white sugar and I think that they are much less addicting and tantrum-causing (I think kids tend crave natural sweeteners less than sugar and are usually fulfilled after eating a baked good made with them instead of wanting more).

I hope this post helps any parents out there to form your own opinions in the sugar debate, for at least spelling out my beliefs has helped me feel less guilty about throwing away my daughter's Valentine's Day candy. And I am confident my children can only be better without the candy. Now, whenever we see "treats" in the store that my daughter wants, I promise her we will go home and create our own. The learning from this is amazing - she remembers what the treat looks like, thinks about what we might use to re-create this treat, has a chance to measure and taste all the ingredients, mix everything up, and bake something herself. And she can add her own personal twist. It is creative, fun, a life-long learning experience, and best of all - much more nutritional.


Anonymous said...

I have just started out on this journey (DS is 14 mths and has been told to eliminate pretty much EVERYTHING!!) Most of the recipes I am coming across still have a lot of sugar!. We have always tried to be a sugar free house or use natural sugars instead. this will be a whole new challenge!

Mrs. Ed said...

I couldn't agree more. It's funny how we hear that children deal with peer pressure, but so far it's me who's gotten it from other adults! On one side of the family, most of them are 100 pds overweight and plagued by disabling diabetes and health problems. They shower their kids with candy and junk food and I'm the bad guy because we do not let ours have the stuff the others are eating. Shouldn't adults know better and want better for their kids? One in three white folks will come down with diabetes and it's higher for blacks and hispanics. Besides, our child likes his popsicles made with juice and his homemade treats.