Okay, I am probably going to get into some trouble here, but here I go anyway, with the best of intentions!
I am writing this article not to lecture, judge or point fingers but out of concern, to try and help raise awareness about the dangers of sugar for our children.
Why the jellies, buns, cookies, cakes and chocolates, why all the treats? Why does a 'treat' have to mean sugar?
'Oh, but they are kids' I hear you say, it would be cruel to deny them treats.' We all had a few treats when we were young'.
Yes, we did, myself included, and I ended up struggling with childhood obesity from which I thankfully, eventually managed to recover. However, many parents have not been as fortunate. They are living with metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other diseases, mostly and in some cases entirely related to sugar.
Is this what we want for our children?
Sugar is a severe health hazard and should be treated like a controlled substance.
This statement is not my opinion but that of medical and health professionals the world over who are aware of the dangers and actively campaigning for tighter regulations on sugar. Some nutritionists even call sugar "candy for cancer cells," because it accelerates ageing and inflammation, fueling tumour growth in turn. By contrast, a low carbohydrate 'ketogenic' dietary approach has been shown to assist in the treatment of certain types of cancers, by effectively 'starving' the tumours of their preferred fuel source...sugar.
Sugar is a highly addictive toxin, targeting the reward centres of our children's developing brains, giving them little pleasure hits which they start to crave more and more. The brain gets excited and releases dopamine when they eat sugar, in the same way, that it does if you smoke a cigarette. Like cigarettes, the more sugar is consumed, the more it is craved. They also build a tolerance to it, so they have to eat more and more of it to experience that same pleasurable sensation. The food companies know this and do their very best to ensure sugar is there to tempt children and well-meaning parents at every turn. It's also essential to be aware that other sugary products and artificial sweeteners (like agave nectar, aspartame, dextrose, fructose, corn syrup and even honey) mimic the same chemical effects in the brain and still increase cravings for sweet and sugary foods.
We need to wise up and do better for our kids (and ourselves) now before it's too late. Sounds over the top? ... consider the obesity levels in the US and other parts of the world where there are high levels of sugar consumption. As well as high rates of childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed in teenagers, and advanced cellular ageing is being shown by the age of three. One Harvard University study found that sugary drinks contribute to 180,000 deaths worldwide every year!
It is generally agreed that the best way to avoid this cycle of abuse is to never start in the first place. I would love to see all schools, sports and religious events designated 'sugar-free' zones. The schools don't allow nuts in the lunchboxes due to severe allergic reaction fears, but sugar can be just as deadly, albeit in the longer term. I would prefer to give consent before my children are offered sugar either as a treat or as a reward. Being rewarded for doing something good with something that will make them sick does not make sense.
Of course, this is not going to happen. As a parent, the best I can do is to try and educate my children and encourage them to make healthy choices, to be sensible. I don't want to deprive them, but I have a duty of care to protect them. I don't want them to struggle as I did. I want them to grow up to be healthy and happy adults. The dietary habits they develop now are the habits they will carry into later life.
Our children are at the start of their journeys in life; I would prefer their destinations to be places of happiness and good health, not of diet-related sickness and disease, which now afflicts so many adults. It's up to us to help them.
By Simon Coghlan MSc, BSc.
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