Sun, Apr-30-17, 03:00
There’s no point banning sugar
From The Sunday Times
30 April, 2017
There’s no point banning sugar
We know our kids eat too much sugar, but will trying to ban it be a bigger nightmare?
When my eldest two children were small, they had a friend who wasn’t allowed to eat sugar — his parents believed it was toxic. When my daughter offered him a packet of chocolate buttons at her fifth birthday, he took just one. This single-button story is woven into our family folklore. Any time one of us shows restraint in the face of an almost-finished packet of biscuits, we chorus: “Don’t do an Alfie on us, just eat it.” I felt sorry for Alfie at the time, but now I think his mum and dad might have been onto something.
We are in the midst of a lethal childhood-obesity epidemic in the UK that has been labelled a “slow-motion disaster”. Diabetes levels are creeping up and Public Health England believes children eat three times the recommended amount of the sweet stuff.
A new survey by Action on Sugar (AOS), run by a professor of cardiovascular medicine, reveals the amount of sugar in spreads such as jam. My cupboard is full of these things. Kids are meant to have between five and seven sugar cubes a day (about 5% of their daily calories). But many chocolate spreads contain a horrific 57 teaspoons per jar. I’ve thrown the Nutella out. But am I too late? My eldest is 14 and my youngest is five. The government’s lambasted “too little too late” sugar tax kicks in next year, and it will increase the cost of many fizzy drinks, but campaigners don’t believe this will reduce consumption. So how best to tackle this as parents?
Banning anything makes it more desirable, but I’m the mum who expects her children to self-moderate when it comes to Haribo — they always eat the lot. I do not allow fizzy drinks in the house, but chocolate is never rationed — it’s my weak spot, both personally and as a mum. I find the science around sugar and addiction confusing and complicated. Some anti-sugar crusaders suggest it is worse than smoking, others advise moderation. Even Jamie Oliver has failed to get the government to take our gigantic sugar consumption seriously and is scathing about schools’ lack of intent in tackling the problem.
When we had our fourth child, we reduced the sugar in her diet compared to her siblings and made sure she tried all manner of exotic food as a youngster. But at five she now eats the same as the others and turns her nose up at expensive sugar-free snacks. I feel I have failed on the parenting front here, but I am also trying to avoid triggering any issues around food.
I’m an average cook and a time- poor working mum. I haven’t the man hours to prepare things like Gwyneth Paltrow’s sugar-free brownies. I realise it is about healthy eating as a whole, but I’m struggling. I do question whether my enduring commitment to this treat mentality is perhaps a sign of working-parent guilt: what am I making up for with all this sugar? One thing I do know is that a sugar-free childhood does not a sugar-free adult make. We don’t see Alfie much now, but we know many teens who rebelled against their clean-eating upbringings by eating far more of the sweet stuff than anyone in our household.
Parenting Hacks: Improve your children’s diet
Get them involved
Ask your children to help you prepare meals. The more involved they feel, they less likely they are to complain about being “forced” to eat vegetables.
With young children in particular, think of fun ways to present “healthy” foods — whether it be cutting them into shapes or serving them on skewers.
No picky eating
Make one meal for the whole family rather than catering to children’s individual preferences: it broadens their tastes and encourages a matter-of-fact approach to food.
Watch your words
Avoid labelling foods as “good” and “bad”, and don’t talk about exercise as a way to atone for overindulging. Focus on eating and sport as activities to be enjoyed.
By Ellie Austin