Common Sources of Sugar in Kids’ Diets (Part 2)
Yesterday, I wrote about some of the common sources of sugar in kids’ diets, but there was just too much to say, so here are the final three categories:
White bread is pretty much devoid of any good things for your child. Sure, they might try to fortify it with vitamins, but they never fortify it with anything close to the amount of vitamins contained in whole wheat. Plus, it is lacking in fiber. And white carbohydrates like white flour and white rice break down directly into sugar in the body, and act like added, processed sugars. And let’s not forget the biggest problem we’re discussing at the moment: added sugar. You bet your processed white bread has plenty of added sugar.
But whole wheat bread is healthy, right? Not necessarily. A lot of whole wheat breads are not 100% whole wheat and even those that are almost always have plenty of added sugar. The fluffier and more tasty they are to kids, the more sugar content they are likely to have.
Don’t fool yourself that gluten free bread is any better. A lot of gluten free breads are made with ingredients like white rice flour or potato starch – the same white carbohydrates that convert to sugar as white flour – and many do contain added, processed sugar, although it might come under different names.
Solution: Bake or Bakery
The best solution to the problem of not knowing what’s in your kids’ bread is to just bake it yourself. Then you control all of the ingredients! You can make it 100% whole wheat or rye and add healthy bonuses like seeds or even dried fruit. Use honey or agave to feed the yeast (or make a sourdough loaf with wild yeast, which will happily feed on flour), and you don’t need much sweetener to feed the yeast because most yeast will happily eat some of the flour. As a bonus, there are no preservatives or other added nasties in homemade bread.
Too busy to bake bread? Think again!! Buy a bread machine and you can make bread yourself in just minutes. Most machines even have timers so you can put the ingredients in before you go to sleep and wake up to the smell of fresh bread for toast and sandwiches. My favorite is the Breville BBM800XL Custom Loaf Bread Maker, although I have heard rave reviews about the Zojirushi BB-PAC20 Home Bakery Virtuoso Breadmaker. (Breville also sells lower models you can pick up for under $100.) So far we’ve been using our Breville bread machine for more than a decade and it’s still working brilliantly!
Of course, you can still buy bread. You just have to be really selective about what you buy. 90% of the time I bake my own bread, but occasionally when I do buy bread, I buy direct from a bakery where I know the owners and I can trust their ingredients. I usually buy whole grain rye or black Russian bread, which my toddler calls “chocolate bread.” One brand that has really impressed me is Ezekiel Bread’s sprouted grain breads, like Food for Life, Ezekiel 4:9 Bread, Original Sprouted, Organic. Sprouted grain breads offer a whole host of health benefits, including easier digestion and increased absorption of nutrients, plus more antioxidants and vitamins than normal grains could give you. They also offer a Brown Rice Bread that is Dairy,Gluten & Yeast Free!
Peanut butter, jelly, jam, marmalade, spreadable cheese, cream cheese, butter, mayonnaise, ketchup, relish, salsa, pasta sauce, nutella, and marshmallow fluff are all common spreads for bread. Of them, all except the cheeses and butter are full of sugar. In fact, I’m pretty sure marshmallow fluff is actually made of sugar, and the worst sugar possible, at that! Holy high fructose corn syrup, Batman!
But most people are surprised to learn that spreads like peanut butter and nutella are chock full of sugar, salt, and oil. Jelly, jam, and marmalade are usually 50% or more sugar. Mayo, ketchup, relish, and store-bought salsas and pasta sauces often contain lots of sugar, even though they are “savory” foods.
The result is that you may think you are giving your child a healthy sandwich with peanut butter and jelly (protein and fruit, right?) but you are really giving them a huge dose of processed sugar! And even though they are not full of sugar, spreadable cheeses, cream cheese, and butter are all huge sources of animal fats, proteins, and preservatives. They may not be high in sugar, but they are still unhealthy.
But wait, what do I spread on my kid’s sandwich, then?!
Solution: Healthy Spreads
The best solution to the spread situation is to make them yourself. I make my own ketchup, for instance. Pasta sauce, salsa, and mayonnaise can all be made at home in a way that reduces or eliminates altogether added sugars. (Although generally speaking, there’s really no healthy way to make mayo, you can make it healthier.) By reading ingredients, you can also purchase some of these items in healthier form. I actually love Follow Your Heart Original Vegenaise and I have to admit that I am a die-hard Hellman’s Mayo addict (we all have our vices, don’t we?), so that’s really saying something!
Living in Australia as we do these days, I have become a huge fan of Vegemite. I actually have no idea how parents in other countries survive without it. What the heck do you make sandwiches with?! Okay, the truth is that Vegemite can take some getting used to if you’re an adult trying it for the first time. It’s not my favorite food, but I don’t mind a Vegemite sandwich now and then… but my kids! When we ran out of Vegemite two days ago, my toddler had a full-blown tantrum because he wanted a Vegemite sandwich so badly. So yes, kids love it, especially if they eat it from a young age. It is quite high in salt, so spread it very thin (my kids especially love it on veggie muffins), and it will give kids a huge dose of healthy B vitamins (which my vegetarian kids especially need).
Tehina, hummus, guacamole, babaganoush, and mustard are some other great spreads to consider. Make them yourself and you don’t need to worry about preservatives or additives. If you’re buying them, check the ingredients carefully to ensure nothing silly like mayo or straight up sugar has been mixed in. Busy parents need not worry: Tehina paste can be easily mixed up into a spread in small quantities in a minute or two. (Plus, it is an amazing source of non-dairy calcium!) Guacamole can be as simple as spreading mashed avocado on bread and sprinkling a tiny bit of lemon juice on top. Hummus and guacamole can both be made in advance and frozen in small containers. Their consistency might be slightly affected but if you mix them up and spread them on bread, nobody will ever be able to tell. This makes it easy to whip up a big batch and rotate through various spreads for variety. Babaganoush is a roasted or grilled eggplant spread that also freezes nicely. For the healthiest and most delicious option, ensure you are using a tehina-based Israeli babaganoush recipe. Olive tapenade, when homemade, can also be a delicious sandwich or wrap spread. Olives are very salty, but they also provide a lot of health benefits, ranging from their high levels of antioxidants and phytonutrients to their heart-healthy oil to their anti-inflammatory properties.
Finally, there are the nut butters. There is no reason why peanut butter needs to be so unhealthy! Why they add oil to a nut that’s already rich in oil is beyond me. And peanuts have a natural sweetness that needs no enhancement. Choose a pure peanut butter with no added sugar, salt, or oil. The ingredients list should only have ONE item: Peanuts. No preservatives, stabilizers, or anything else. Yes, it will separate, but mix back in the oil and you’ll be looking at a peanut butter that’s healthier than the garbage they market to kids these days.
Want some variety of flavors and nutrients? Experiment with other nut butters. Cashew butter is delicious and naturally sweet. Macadamia nuts make a rich, oily butter. Walnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, and almonds all offer very different health benefits that make peanut butter look wimpy. Boost your kids’ nutrient intake by changing the types of nut butters you use. Going nut-free for school? Try coconut butter as a spread. The health benefits of coconuts are the latest rage, so go ahead, jump on the bandwagon! Afraid your kids will stage a riot if you cut out their chocolatey nutella spread? Replace it with a raw cacao spread sweetened with organic agave nectar.
Problem: Sugary Cereals
Most parents have no idea how much sugar is in their kids’ cereals. When I pointed out to a friend that the second ingredient in “healthy” cereals like Cheerios or Rice Krispies (Rice Bubbles in Australia) is sugar, she was shocked. She thought her kids were getting healthy cereals but they were getting sugar in their cereals. To make matters worse, most parents allow their kids to sprinkle some sugar on top of these “bland,” “healthy” cereals, which compounds the problem.
And those are the healthy cereals! Indeed, a lot of cereals marketed to a health-conscious or dieting subset are either full of sweeteners or are full of fake substitutes (which have their own health implications – but that’s a post for another day!).
Most cereals marketed to kids today are overflowing with sugar. Parents might know a cereal is sugary, but do you know just how sugary? I just picked one out of thin air (first one that came to mind – I didn’t go hunting for the worst offender). Gluten-free vitamin-fortified Fruity Pebbles are 33% sugar. 33%!!!!!!!! Am I the only one who sees a problem with this? I really hope not. (And as if that’s not bad enough, Post Foods encourages you to use this cereal to make “treats” using 1 box of cereal, 6 cups of marshmallows, and 1/2 stick of butter. That’s 336 grams of sugar per recipe.)
9 grams out of every 27 gram serving is sugar. That’s 1/3 of the volume of the cereal composed of sugar. 33%!
Personally, I think marketing cereals like this to kids is positively criminal. Yes, many parents do not know how much garbage they are feeding their kids, but with so much marketing and so little free time, it is unfair to place all the blame on the parents. I hope the executives of these companies suffer terrible insomnia from their incessant guilt over slowly killing an entire generation of children.
Solution: Healthy Breakfast Alternatives
There are healthy cereals out there, but goodness are they hard to find. Even the organic health-food cereals are generally full of sugar. It’s positively shameful. My favorite cereal is Vita-Brits. It’s like the popular Australian breakfast cereal Weet-Bix but without the added sugar. I have no idea how you could get this cereal in the United States. It is entirely possible that it is impossible to buy a cereal with no added sugar in America. If you find a commercially available cereal with no added sugar in the United States, PLEASE post in comments!
Of course, there are other healthy breakfast alternatives. Kids won’t die without cereal. I think cereal is mostly a convenience food for parents. But if you must give your child cereal, consider giving them a sugar-free muesli instead. Familia Swiss Muesli Cereal, for example, has no added sugar. Neither does Alpen Cereal. You can also make your own muesli. That way you can add your own unique mix of grains, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds. You can also include yummy spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, fresh chopped fruits, or even a sprinkling of agave nectar if your child still has a real sweet tooth.
Another great breakfast option is oatmeal. You can make oatmeal on the stovetop really easily, in the microwave oven, or even overnight in the crock pot. Add fresh banana to make it creamy and sweet, and mix in any types of fresh or dried fruit you like to make it sweet but still healthy. You can also add chopped nuts and seeds, spices, or even fruit pulp from juicing.
Unfortunately, sugar really is in almost every food we buy commercially today. It is a preservative, so companies have a strong incentive to use it liberally, as they can keep their products on the shelves longer with more sugar in them. This is why canned foods are often high in sugar and salt (I once had a woman get very annoyed with me one time when, after examining every canned food on the shelf, I could not find a single one with no sugar in it, and I then exclaimed in exasperation on how these vegetables were actually really unhealthy… meanwhile, she was trying to explain to her kids that vegetables in cans are good to eat. Oops? I somehow don’t feel guilty.). Try buying snap-frozen veggies instead of canned ones, and boil up dry beans instead of just draining canned ones.
At the end of the day, almost every product on our grocery store shelves has sugar in it. And it’s not just because it’s a preservative, but also because it’s a taste that has developed. It’s an addiction we can’t kick – and the companies don’t want us to. The reality is that if we want to inspire healthy kids, we have to let our voices be heard. Buy the sugar-free products when they are available and make them at home when they are not. Write to companies directly and tell them that we want more sugar-free options – and by “sugar-free” we do not mean “synthetic sweeteners!” Write to our representatives in government and tell them we want a line included on all nutrition labels to show how much added sugar is in the food, so companies’ dirty tricks will be revealed for all interested consumers to see.
These are the changes we need to make to change our kids’ health and change their lives.