There is a lot of hype surrounding sugar, sugar intake, and how much sugar we should or shouldn't eat. Sugar certainly is everywhere, hidden in salad dressings, peanut butter, and ketchup to name a few. As a carbohydrate it can be part of our diet but where it gets tricky is avoiding too much of it. So here is the deal.
Sugar is a carbohydrate and our bodies need 50-60% of our daily calories from carbohydrates to provide energy and proper brain functioning, kids and adults alike. There are two main types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate meaning if is made up of small chains of carbohydrates that are digested and absorbed quickly. Complex carbohydrates on the other hand take longer to digest and are absorbed slowly and often times also contain fiber, which also have health benefits.
The more quickly a carbohydrate is absorbed the faster it can increase blood sugar levels. Ideally we want to keep blood sugar levels fairly consistent, avoiding sharp spikes that lead to crashing lows. That is another benefit of complex carbohydrates especially those that contain higher amounts of fiber, they help to keep blood sugar levels more consistent.
This does not mean that you need to eliminate sugar and other simple carbs from your diet. Yay! All carbohydrates give us energy and all carbohydrates are required for serotonin production, which boosts our mood. However , it seems sugar is everywhere we go. So how do you get a handle on your kids and your sugar intake? Follow these simple dietitian tips.
1. Make sure that your breakfast contains protein and complex carbohydrates. This will help you to stay full and feeling satisfied which helps you avoid excess snacking or sugar cravings throughout the day.
2. Avoid starting the day out with really sweet tasting foods. The foods we eat at the beginning of the day tend to “set the tone” for the day. If we start out eating super sweet foods in the morning we will probably crave sweets all day.
3. Make time for meals and protein. When we skip meals or eat late we end up desperately hungry, crabby, and allowing everyone to eat whatever will make them happy. Which for my 4 year old is any kind of “gummy” treat or candy.
4. Plan ways to get in vegetables during the days. Spinach in a smoothie, pumpkin muffins, veggie pizza, or cauliflower rice are examples of ways to “sneak” in those vegetables in.
5. Choose sweeteners while cooking or baking that are lower glycemic index sweeteners (they don’t increase your blood sugar as quickly as white sugar), like honey, agave nectar, and maple syrup. These sweeteners also contain healthy minerals and consuming local honey can decrease seasonal allergies. Bonus!
6. Avoid hidden sugar. You can drastically decrease your sugar intake just by avoiding extra sugar hidden in common foods. Read labels to check for added sugars and choose products that don't have any extra sugar added.
There will be a FEW days that are just filled to the brim with sugar, and that’s ok. Remember it’s what we do approximately 80% of the time that affects our health, 20% of the time there are birthdays, grandma’s cookies, classroom parties, and social happenings.