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A Spoonful Of Sugar: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Sugar in both grainulate and natural form.
Sugar in both grainulate and natural form.

Hi! I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician. I’m here today with health tips for kids about sugar.

Most kids - of all ages – love sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave. We love our sugar - and we know it isn’t good for us.

‘Only one more cookie. You’ve had enough for today.’ Isn’t that what Moms and Dads say all the time? ‘NO MORE SUGAR’. Then they’ll say something like ‘have this carrot instead.’ Sheesh. Grumble, grumble, grumble.

Have you ever wondered what is really wrong with sugar? It’s everywhere and lots of kids eat it. Nobody falls over dead or faints after they eat sugar. Nobody’s skin turns green or hair falls out, so what’s the problem?

Well, the problem is, sugar isn’t a food. It’s not nutrition. It doesn’t have vitamins or minerals. If sugar was the only thing we had to eat, we wouldn’t live for very long. Sugar doesn’t give kids new brain cells or new blood cells, it doesn’t help grow bones or muscles or help kids’ hearts or lungs or kidneys to get mature.

Sugar does have calories and calories give us energy. But in order to use the energy, kids’ bodies have to work. To work, kids need nutrition from real food. Nutrition means vitamins, like vitamin C, and minerals like calcium and magnesium. Nutrition means fiber and protein and healthy fat. Without nutrition, kids can’t grow or think or rest or even play hard.

You can think of sugar as a little bit like gasoline in a car. It makes the engine go, but it doesn’t help the parts. If the motor doesn’t work or the tires are flat it doesn’t matter how much gasoline you put in the car. It won’t work.

The good thing is there’s plenty of natural sugar for energy in real food. Fruit has natural sugar. Vegetables like beets and carrots and squash are sweet. Yogurt and milk have natural milk sugar. So you don’t need cookies or candy or pop in order to have energy.

Doctors and scientists have figured out that to be healthy, kids should have no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar in one day. Sadly, lots of kids eat 18 or 20 or even 24 teaspoons every day. That’s why some kids weigh more than they want to and why some kids have diseases like diabetes and heart problems. Even if you don’t get a disease from eating sugar, sugar can make you have headaches and stomach aches or be grouchy and tired.

Let’s figure this out so you know how much sugar you are eating. One average cookie has one teaspoon of sugar. So 6 cookies in one day would be the most that is healthy. But wait! One tablespoon of ketchup has 1 teaspoon of sugar. A half cup of ice cream has 5 teaspoons of sugar. One juice box can have 4 or 5 teaspoons of sugar. And a can of soda pop can have 10 teaspoons of sugar.

Wow! By the time kids are done with an average day, they might have eaten a real lot of sugar! That’s a problem!

Here’s what I suggest: make a list of your favorite sugary foods. Go over that list with your parents and make a plan to eat only one of the foods on your list in a day. Go with your parents to the grocery store and together read labels on food before you buy it. You can find ketchup and salad dressing and yogurt without sugar.

Eat oatmeal and nuts and fruit and eggs for breakfast instead of cereal. Bake cookies and cakes and pies at home and use half the sugar that the recipe says. Most of the time, no one will notice the difference! And a big help is to drink water instead of juice or soda. If you sometimes eat more sugar than you should, don’t worry. You won’t hurt yourself if every once in a while you have more than you ought to.

But remember: sugar isn’t food; it’s a special treat. Having just a little at a time is what’s best for your health.

I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck and I’m wishing you well.

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