Just in time for Easter, the New York Times Magazine posed the question, “Is Sugar Toxic?” and then answered, it sure seems so. The article is lengthy, but worth the read, and you can find it here. Go ahead and check it out.
The news that consuming excess sugar could make you obese and could in turn trigger diabetes is hardly new, and most doctors and nutritionists have been urging more whole foods and lots of physical activity for as long as I have been paying attention to this issue. What’s new (to me anyway) is the description of how the body processes sugar, and the growing evidence of its link to some forms of cancer.
Now I worry about cancer. And part of why I worry about it is because there are about a million things in my environment that are known carcinogens. Had you told me that pesticide is linked to cancer, or plastics, or processed foods, or sucralose, or improperly filtered water, I would have nodded sagely and continued to try my best to eliminate them from out lives. But sugar? Plain old sugar? As in birthday cakes and cotton candy and candy canes?
To some degree, I have known first hand the problems of sugar. I clearly recall that I spent most of sixth grade scheming about how to get more ice cream sandwiches at lunch. They were 25 cents, and some days I would have two or three. While I never really gained weight, I did experience other problems. That was the year that I fell behind at math. Our teacher let us self-determine our pace in that subject, and mine slowed to a crawl. Later on, I had to take algebra over the summer in high school just to catch back up.
No surprise then that high school was also a nutritional disaster. I would bring a salad and then eat three Otis Spunkmeyer cookies with it. Little wonder that I fell asleep practically every day in Chemistry. Somehow I managed to ace the class, a fact that I attribute mainly to being naturally pretty good at school and also having taken the non advanced placement class (whereas all my friends opted for the more challenging course).
So, given my own experience, I have always been a little cautious about how much sugar we allow our kids. Reading the Times article makes me want to be much more vigilant. But it also makes me despair. I want our kids to be able to enjoy sweets, to celebrate with their friends, to really appreciate our holidays. I don’t want to be the sugar police every day.
That said, I can’t help but notice that the kids we know have many more treats than I ever used to have. That math bingo at the preschool involved M&Ms is one example, but I have known a mom to say that her daughter didn’t need lunch because she’d just eaten a Reeses. The girl is 5. Another mom at the preschool ordered personalized M&Ms for all the kids for Valentine’s Day. Our neighbor OWNS a cotton candy machine. Now, I deeply love all these people and I don’t mean this as a criticism, just evidence that we have drastically increased the availability of sugar treats to our kids. Between the holidays and the birthdays, not to mention the neighborhood celebrations, I’m pretty much always shuttling candy out the door, hoping someone else will enjoy it. Just not my kids.
At ages 5 and 2, this is pretty manageable. But as they get older, as they enter school (where they are finally exposed to the full menu of processed items available on the open market), I have no idea how we will make the notion that, to do well, to be healthy, you must suppress your desires for the choco-taco with coke chaser and choose an orange instead. And suddenly, after reading the Times article, this seems more urgent than ever before.
So I’m ending with a question. How are the more seasoned mothers and fathers out there handling this? What advice can you give a relatively young mom who wants to keep the sweets in check?