When sugar was first introduced in the 12th century, it was called “sweet salt” and became a supplement for honey – the only sweetener people knew in Europe before they were introduced to sugar. It was an expensive and exotic ingredient that was used for flavoring. Today, refined sugar is cheap and used excessively in the food industry – it’s addictive, cost efficient and makes stuff taste better. You would be surprised by how much sugar you consume even if you’re consciously trying to avoid eating refined sugars. Sure – you don’t stuff your face with candy every day, but if there’s a bottle of sauce in your fridge, a muesli bar in your purse or if you’ve enjoyed a ready-made meal for lunch, you’ve still probably downed a whole lot of unnecessary sugars.
Let me start off by saying I’m in no way radically against sugar, but I am, however, an advocate for conscious consumption and the importance of understanding how much there is to gain from knowing what you put in your mouth. My child is allowed to have the occasional ice cream, cake and cookies and if I feel like having fast food or candy, I will damn well enjoy the junk and the gummy bears. I do, however, realize that these choices I make affect my health and my addiction to sugars in general. I’m also well aware that my ability to understand the long-term effects of my actions and decisions is a skill my kid hasn’t developed yet. I know that it is my responsibility to make the choices for her because she cannot.
Refined sugar is completely depleted of all its natural benefits and all that’s left is pure, refined carbohydrates. We like to think that allowing our kids to drink juice in stead of fizzy and sugary soft drinks is a healthy choice. Think again – unless it’s 100% pure fruit juice, it often contains the same amount or more of refined sugar and additives as a glass of Coca Cola. Just because it looks good and says “fruit” on the label, doesn’t mean it’s actually good for your child. What we do in stead? If it’s a special occasion that calls for anything other than the usual water (which kiddo loves), we give Ladybug pure fruit juice or, in case it’s not available, bubbly water. Pouring half a glass of white sugar down my kid’s throat is in no way an option in my book. Unfortunately, 100% “freshly pressed” juices aren’t all that pure, either – they’re all enhanced with flavoring agents, but it sure beats any other possible choices there are.
Candy. The only reason candy is in any way special is because the industry sells it well and because parents like to treat their kids and make them happy. We like to make them feel special, buy them everything they like and give them special treats on special occasions. “Let the kid be a little happy every once in a while!” a parent who doesn’t see any harm in candy once told me. The only problem with giving a tiny toddler candy is that he or she wouldn’t have known she wanted any before a parent handed it to them. The kid would in no way have been unhappier without that chocolate bar in hand. Sure, she was happy once she put it in her mouth and seeing her happy made you happy. That’s my point – “buying” your kid’s happiness with something that isn’t good for her in order to feel better about yourself is selfish and thoughtless. A special healthy snack would probably have had the same effect, but since you grew up yearning candy every single day of your childhood (didn’t we all?), you automatically assume that’s the only way. It really is not.
Sure – a sweetened yoghurt, a bowl of proper quality ice cream, a home-baked cake or cookies. They all contain sugar, but they also contain nutrients. But the thought of my tiny little toddler putting a colorful piece of sugary crap in her mouth makes shivers go down my spine. I have no intention of spending my days debating whether or not my sugar-addicted kid has earned a piece of candy or not. I am planning to postpone it for as long as I can and I think that’s what every parent should at least try doing.
What you can treat your kid to in stead? We always have a bowl of nuts, seeds and dried fruit on our living room table. When we’re at the store and at the snack aisle, Ladybug is allowed any bag of fruit, nuts or seeds she points at. She loves them, we love them – our wallets don’t (same goes for pure fruit juices), but that’s a really small price to pay for something as important as a child’s health and wellbeing. We also get her the ecological tubed fruit purées like Ella’s Kitchen or Plum – all they are is really puréed fruit and since she really loves them, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be allowed to eat them.
My stand on sugar is that it should be what it was meant to be to begin with – a sweetening agent. Something we use to add a little flavor (like we do with spices) in stead of having it serve as a cheap preservative, texture modifier, fermentation substrate or bulking agent. I almost always use a pinch of sugar or a teaspoonful of honey in most dishes I prepare and use it to balance out the acidity of other ingredients – I don’t think I could ever cook without a sweetening agent. But I will not allow my child to become addicted to sugar and I will never do anything to consciously harm my kid’s dental hygiene, digestion or feed any addictions she develops along the way. That’s what I’m here for, after all. 🙂
(Ma kirjutan eestikeelse tõlke hiljem, see sai pisut liiga pikk…)