Most people realize that excessive sugar in the diet is disastrous to health over the long term. This would include sugar in all its forms. Even natural sugars, such as maple syrup and raw honey, cause health challenges if consumed to excess. Sugar overconsumption leads to ups and downs in insulin levels which eventually cause chronic blood sugar problems either in the form of hypoglycemia or diabetes. High fructose corn syrup or any unnatural form of fructose (like agave nectar) is even worse than sugar as it elevates triglyceride levels in the blood and also leads to insulin resistance. A good rule of thumb is to indulge in a (preferably) homemade treat sweetened with natural sugars approximately two to three times a week. A daily sweet indulgence is too frequent for vibrant health.
Refined carbs cause the same type of damage as excessive sugar intake. Surprisingly, this fact is not commonly known. Refined carbs just take a little longer to take their toll on the body’s vitality. By “refined” carbs, I am referring to most grain or potato based foods that are processed. This would include chips, crackers, cookies, boxed cereals and so on. I am floored at how many Moms think goldfish crackers or Cheerios are a healthy snack for kids. They are NOT a good snack choice in any way, shape, or form! When you provide these types of highly processed carbohydrates to your child on a regular basis as snack food, you are not only fueling addictive eating behavior (these types of foods are extremely hard to eat in moderation and food companies know this fact well), but you are also priming their metabolism for diabetes or hypoglycemia down the road. Even if your child is a normal weight through the age of 8 or so, they are not yet out of the woods. Many children, particularly girls, balloon at around ages 9-11. Boys who are normal weight as children frequently become overweight when the grown spurts stop around 16 if they are regularly consuming processed carbs. The bottom line is your child is in the danger zone for having lifelong weight problems if you start the habit of eating refined carbs at an early age.
Many parents ask me what to feed their children as a snack if little bags of chips and crackers are avoided. For my own children, I prefer a snack cup of fresh fruit, homemade cookies (with a glass of milk as the fat in the milk significantly slows down the insulin shock from the sugar), homemade muffins, a bagful of homemade popcorn (don’t pop it in the microwave!), or food bars that are made of whole ingredients with no protein isolates of any kind (I will blog about the dangers of protein bars at a later time). A small cup of nuts is an excellent snack as well. If your child won’t eat a healthy snack, then they don’t need a snack at all. Being “hungry” for chips and crackers and not fresh fruit or nuts is not really hunger, it is a signal of addiction to these highly processed carbs. Do your best as a parent to wean your child off these dangerous foods. Your children will thank you profusely when they are grown.
If you open the pantry in my home, the shelves are completely devoid of any bags of chips, boxes of crackers or cereal, and store bought cookies. These types of foods are so addictive in my experience, that if you stock them in your home, you will eat them regularly. Moreover, you will not only eat them, you will most likely overeat them! I have found that the only sure way to avoid refined carbs the majority of the time is to not buy them. Also, don’t shop when you are hungry or your cart will be loaded with them. If you indulge periodically at parties and such, this is not a major issue. It is when you eat them every day or at least several times a week that the roller coaster ride to weight problems and blood sugar issues begins. My advice would be to not buy them at all. Within a few weeks, you will be very glad you took this step.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist