As a mom of two young girls, ages three and one (and having been diagnosed with breast cancer five months ago), I have become hyperaware of sugar. We all know it is not good for our health (despite its sneaky deliciousness). There are plenty of documentaries, articles, books, podcasts and blogs to back up that fact. It is almost like when cigarettes were truly exposed as harmful. Sugar is being exposed as truly harmful.
Left and right people are mentioning the effects of sugar — everything from tooth decay, to fatty liver disease, to diabetes, to heart disease, to cancer. In America, it is truly shocking how we emphasize sugar at EVERY single celebration. After my initial diagnosis and reading how sugar was a HUGE no-no, my mind just started to thinking about every way sugar is incorporated into our lives. How are we ever supposed to teach our kids about healthy choices if at EVERY birthday party, EVERY holiday, sheesh EVERY Friday night we rejoice sugar?
Where did those traditions come from? Why is sugar put on some sparkly pedestal? As Halloween is creeping around the corner, I am genuinely afraid of all the Halloween sugar that will be passing through my little ones’ fingertips.
Like every other kid, I happily welcomed all the sugary traditions from my favorite vanilla cake with raspberry jelly in the middle and white icing on top as a kid, or chocolates for Valentine’s Day, Shamrock cookies for St. Patrick’s Day, Easter eggs filled with Skittles on Easter morning, flag cake on Fourth of July, ice cream and s’mores in the summer, brownies on Saturdays, oatmeal cookies just because, and pecan pie for Thanksgiving and lemon meringue pie for Christmas is nonstop really. SUGAR IS EVERYWHERE.
Like my lifestyle coach put it, we no longer know what treats are anymore. Americans feel we deserve a treat with every meal well then it isn’t a treat anymore. It is just part of your daily food intake.
Speaking of daily food intake, we don’t even know what food is intended for anymore. We think food is intended for pleasure. When a family goes out to eat, we don’t ask, ‘What do you guys want to eat that will boost up our nutritional intake for the day?’ We ask, ‘What do you feel like eating?’ Somehow, we have been conditioned that food is about feelings and pleasure not about nutritional value. And that is how many get upside down with their health and end up with diabetes, obesity, chronic illnesses, autoimmune diseases, even cancer.
And in all of that, what are we teaching our kids? When they see us allow ourselves a treat for.every.single.meal what do you think that teaches them? That they too deserve a treat, for every single meal. It is baffling to me the amount of sugar that is allowed for child (or adult) consumption not to mention that our country allows such dangerous foods to be served here (but that is another discussion for another time). Did you know there are 11 teaspoons of sugar in ONE can of pop?!? (I am raised by Michiganders.) That is just insanity to me. And commercials tote these bottles around like they are a magic potion and should be drunk by everyone. I was guilty too of chugging down sugary pop as a teen (I always loved them at baseball games).
Hidden sugar is another frustrating concept. Okay so you cut out the obvious: candy, cookies, processed foods with added sugar. Then you have hidden sugar in yogurt (7 teaspoons of sugar!!!), bagels (almost every carb you can think of)— for moms it is hard to find foods that your little people will eat that is healthy for them. Our three-year-old is CARB CRAZY begs for bars (which can have 15 grams of sugar in them! Good heavens.) She also asks for bread and noodles constantly. We decided to cut out those carbs (yes worthy carbs are essential for her growth — we love oatmeal!), but for snacks we are trying to cut up fruit and veggies. Will she refuse? Probably. But will she pick up the celery stick and dip it into the no-sugar added peanut butter eventually, yes. Why? Because we are going to be consistent. It is hard. Parenting is hard, life is hard. But is our child’s health worth it? Heck yeah.
After my diagnosis, not only did I want myself to get as healthy as possible but to me it was more about the bigger picture. The 1 of out 8 women in the room happened to land on me. Was I mostly healthy? Yes. Did I work out? Yes. Did I sleep well? Yes. Do I have a family history? No. So, it’s not like I was this unhealthy person who it was obvious would get an illness of some kind. Cancer came out of NOWHERE. But could I have eaten healthier? Yes. Could I have grown up in a home without lurking chemicals? Yes. Could I have had less stress? Yes. Could I have made sleep more of a priority? Yes. Could I have made my health more of a priority? Yes.
The big picture was how can I prevent my kids from developing cancer (or any debilitating, life-threatening illness)? What can I control? The food they eat, the toxic chemicals that are in our home, the sleep they get, the stress they are under. These are all things I can help teach them about making better choices. Sugar is a HUGE part of that whole scenario. It is the ONE thing my nutritionist, my oncologist, my Chinese doctor/acupuncturist, my lifestyle coach told me to stay away from. So why would I continue giving it to my kids?
All the cells inside of our bodies have the potential to turn into cancer cells, most of the time our bodies keep them from developing into anything further. Until they are triggered what is the trigger? We don’t know completely, but we are beginning to find out. Toxic chemicals and pollution are (just some) carcinogens.
Instead of celebrations being centered around sugar, could we find another way to celebrate?
Why can’t fruit and healthy foods be worthy of serving for celebrations? Why is it that we hand our precious, wholesome one-year-old babies a cake to smash and eat FULL of sugar?
Yes, we need to be able to live our lives to the fullest, to not live in fear, to not walk on the eggshells of life. But don’t we need to be smart? And pass that knowledge onto our kids? I think if we all just switch gears a bit, we won’t even feel like we are missing anything. Because I mean who feels awesome after eating two slices of cake? Or a giant piece of pie? I don’t. For Halloween consider passing out honey sticks or something that will do a body good.