By Cate Moriasi
Last month Kate’s blog post considered the issue of sugar addiction and here I am again talking about sugar a few weeks later. I agree with Kate’s idea of “the triad of sweetness beginning at Halloween,” or what others celebrate as Fall Festival. I exercise a certain degree of discipline when it comes to what I eat but this “triad of sweetness” is a challenge. I looked at my teenage daughter piling up covers ripped from chocolate and other candy that our neighbor had brought as a gift to her. As I hoped that she would stop herself without me having to say anything, my mind rushed through the upcoming days and festivities going right into the first few months of 2021, of course praying that we will safely navigate through this truly unprecedented 2020.
It seems as if before we fully recover from the sweet goodness of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, the sweet Valentine comes along, paving way for sweet Easter. A few years ago, we filled more than half of the Easter eggs with coin money and the rest with candy, and marveled as we saw the disappointment on our children’s faces. They actually started carefully looking through the eggs so they could select the ones with candy. The conversation that followed related to us trying to understand why the kids preferred candy even when they could use money to buy whatever they wanted, including candy. Of course, having a sweet tooth myself, I could see how hard it would be for a child to curb the instant gratification that the piece of candy brings and how disappointing it would be to open the plastic egg expecting to find candy but instead finding a dime or a quarter.
The struggle is not only with children but with adults too. During the recent Fall Festival at our church, a friend found me eating my second serving of a caramel pecan cream slab pie. She laughed and asked, “aren’t you the one who posted that article on sugar?” I said yes and proceeded to give my excuse. First of all, I think the servers had learned the popularity of that pie from last year so they cut very small pieces. Towards the end of the function I found a few pieces of this pie left and I allowed myself to get a second helping- one more tiny piece as I convinced myself. I explained that after I tasted that pie for the first time, I felt like I needed to get the recipe. But by the time I got home, I had come back to my senses and realized that it would be a bad idea for me to make the pie. Therefore, I decided that I will wait for the next year’s Fall Festival to grab a bite. Needless to say, in addition to that pie, I enjoyed some bite-sized caramel-glazed cake doughnuts before the Fall Festival was over.
You are probably wondering where I am going with all these stories. It is to acknowledge that even when we know the harmful effects of added sugar, the battle is real for those of us endowed with a sweet tooth. It is also to acknowledge that this is a battle we can fight to obtain a significant degree of victory. From my circles, I know the good news confirmed by the American Heart Association (AHA) that most American consumers want to have less sugar in their diets and are willing to give up a favorite sugary product in favor of finding a healthier alternative. I also love what they said in the same article, “The willingness is there. For now, your best defense is education.” So how do you move from willingness to actually reducing added sugar in your diet? Education is at least the first half of the battle and the AHA has done a great job providing information in easy to read articles or infographics.
Some of the questions I have heard commonly asked by friends trying to make changes are: Is brown sugar better for you than white sugar? What about honey? Well this is one of the issues addressed in the articles you will find on the AHA website. Here is an excerpt from the article, “But high fructose corn syrup isn’t the only type of sugar contributing to our over consumption. Some sugars are assumed to be healthier than others, but added sugars like agave nectar, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, or date sugar have a similar effect on the body as other added sugars.”
You can visit their website to find information about main sources of added sugar in the diet, tracking added sugars in food, tips for cutting down added sugar, and many others, including taking control of excuses to overindulge. So how did education or knowledge about the effects of sugar help me, considering my overindulgence during the most recent Fall Festival? Well, that knowledge has been the foundation for me to exercise control and discipline over what I eat for majority of the time. I have had to develop strategies like keeping tempting food items out of my house, reducing eating out and using the no-calories sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit, which are plant based, to prepare a sweet dish. The point is, once you know the effects of sugar you can come up with a strategy that works for you to cut down on sugar consumption, especially as we go into the season of festivities. Thankfully, our bodies can be weaned off added sugar so that when you choose to give in to the pie craving like I did, your body will let you know. It took me several days to get over the unwellness I felt after appeasing my taste buds with the sweet goodies during the Fall Festival.
Even for children, education is a critical step. For instance, in the story above about my daughter, I finally had to say something about how much candy she was consuming in that sitting. I’m not sure she would have stopped on her own but her response to me was, “mom these are actually tiny pieces and I’m planning to work them off.” We have of course previously had the conversation about the daunting amount of physical activity that would be required to work off a seemingly small amount of added sugar. We have also talked about the fact that you can eat some added sugar but there are recommended amounts even children shouldn’t exceed on a regular basis for the sake of their health. We have also helped our children visualize how much added sugar different foods and drinks contain, with respect to recommended amounts. Even when it is hard, my daughter’s knowledge about the effects of added sugar makes this conversation easier and helps her choose better options more often than she would be able to without that knowledge.
It is in this light that Kate and I wrote a book, “Atherosclerosis Attack: Traffic Jam in Your Arteries,” to give middle schoolers the opportunity to understand the impact of their daily lifestyle choices in a FUN way. If you haven’t yet, buy a copy of Atherosclerosis Attack for the child you care about. This book allows children to discover for themselves through a story, how their diet & exercise choices affect a real disease and what they can do about it, while learning the science about one of the major lifestyle-related chronic diseases affecting Americans.