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The Great Sugar Debate

The Great Sugar Debate

The following information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

What would childhood be without the occasional ice cream cone or slice of birthday cake? Most of us can't even imagine the absence of these "special-occasion" foods. But some of us give our kids cookies, fruit bars, or muffins every day. Is that much sugar okay for them?

Sugar is a hot topic in the media now, and it is a confusing issue for many moms. Should you allow your child to eat sugar every day? If so, in what form? Or should your kid's sugar intake be more restricted? Most agree that it's impossible to avoid altogether, but the common wisdom on the subject is shifting once again — toward moderation.


A Taste for Sugar

Circle of Moms member Linda B., who is careful to give her daughter water and milk rather than juice and soda, allows her about a teaspoon of sugar on her breakfast cereal. She wonders whether honey would be better. But most Circle of Moms members seems to feel there's nothing wrong with a little sugar each day, citing as evidence that most of us ate a fair amount of it growing up and that we were not unduly harmed by it. I, for one, ate sugar freely as a kid: sweetened cereals, candy, cookies, Coke.

While this sort of diet for kids is not widely encouraged anymore, we can't ignore the fact, as reported by the CDC, that childhood obesity in the U.S. is at an all-time high, having tripled in the last 30 years, such that calling it an "epidemic" is not a euphemism.

Concerned moms, including a member named Angie B. point out that giving kids sugar at a young age will train their palates to want it more often. (If you've ever tried to cut down on sugar or salt yourself, you know that the absence of these flavors is starkly noticeable and that it takes a while and a lot of willpower to get used to the change.) So it seems wise to avoid encouraging a taste for sweets, and to instead give your kids a treat now and then.


Are Some Sugars Better Than Others?

Whenever the great sugar debate arises on Circle of Moms, someone points out that some sugars (namely high fructose corn syrup and sucrose) are worse for kids than others. 

This is why Mayor Michael Bloomberg is on a mission to ban high-sugar drinks from almost all New York City restaurants. The main culprit in these beverages is high fructose corn syrup — a sugar that is particularly bad for us and our kids. As the American Medical Association (AMA) explains, the controversy over high fructose corn syrup centers around the way it is processed. The process changes sugar, chemically and enzymatically, into a substance that increases our risk for obesity, high cholesterol and triglycerides. It has also been found to contain mercury, a heavy metal you want to avoid entirely. There's little debate among experts that it's best to avoid giving your kids soda or pop. 

And what about sucrose, the white stuff we add to cereal, cookies, and cakes? The evidence is especially clear that we should limit our our kids' intake. The American Heart Association suggests that, for women, no more than 100 calories per day should come from added sugar of any kind. They allow men 150. You can easily infer that for kids, the target number should be less than 100 calories of added sugar a day

With fructose, the sugar found naturally in fruit, here's what's important to keep in mind: the sugar in an apple takes longer for our bodies to process than white sugar added to foods and is therefore, as Joy B. explains, a better choice. Fructose doesn't cause our blood sugar levels to spike, and fruit has nutritional value beyond the wonderful sweetness that makes us desire it. Joy likes giving her kids fruit instead of sugary sweets because she's not only providing that sweetness, but also colorful nutrition that makes a cereal bowl or desert plate more enticing.

Still, not every kid likes fruit, and almost all of them love sweets. So it seems that sugar moderation is the most practical way for parents to go. Many moms recommends using just a little sugar or fruit juice to sweeten foods and to reserve truly sugary sweets for special occasions. As Jessa O. puts it, as long as sugar is "just the occasional treat," it is perfectly fine.

The preceding information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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