The safety and happiness of the world’s children is of the utmost importance—that’s why the organization Healthy Child Healthy World makes it its sole purpose to protect them in every way possible. In the case of its second annual summer benefit, that was done through a bit of education. The event’s keynote speaker was Dr. Mark Hyman, of The UltraWellness Center, and his main goal was to teach the crowd about the dangers of something kids love a lot: sugar.
Here, Dr. Hyman elaborates on what he considers to be its most worrisome effects and how we can all raise our kids to be sweetly satisfied sans the sugar high.
How is sugar a toxin?
When I say sugar is a toxin, I’m talking about the pharmacological doses many people consume today. Consider this: the average kid eats about 34 teaspoons (or about half a pound) of sugar a day, and much of it comes from soda and other sources of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). These pharmacological doses of sugar—and keep in mind, white flour and honey fall into the sugar category—have made us fat and sick, switching on numerous obesity and diabetes genes. In fact, they turned on all the chronic disease genes in our body today. This is the largest uncontrolled drug experiment ever conducted on humans. Food is information, and HFCS as well as other Frankenfood sweeteners have created serious hormonal havoc as well as stressing out the liver and other organs. Researchers have found mercury in HFCS. They’ve also learned HFCS punches little holes into your gut, creating what we call leaky gut and contributing to inflammation.
Does this mean kids can’t eat birthday cake or celebrate Halloween?
Considering that it comes from real sugar and not HFCS, the occasional piece of birthday cake or whatever dessert isn’t going to create problems. But I strongly emphasize the word “occasional.” Halloween used to be October 31. Now, it starts in late September when drugstore aisles line shelves with HFCS-filled treats and carries into New Year’s Day. For some people, “a little” is a slippery slope because it’s such a nebulous term.
Are sugar alternatives like stevia or agave any better? Is there such a thing as a “better” sugar?
My advice is to give up stevia, aspartame, sucralose, sugar alcohols like xylitol and malitol, and all of the other heavily used and marketed sweeteners unless you want to slow down your metabolism, gain weight and become an addict. Many of us have lost touch with what constitutes “sweet,” and we have to retrain our taste buds to appreciate the natural sweetness of, say, natural vanilla or roasted almonds.
Where should parents and caregivers be watching out for sugar when it’s not clearly labeled?
There are at least 57 names for sugar, and manufacturers cleverly disguise it within ingredients you wouldn’t recognize as sugar. Anything ending in “ose” is sugar. If food labels bewilder you, simply switch to whole, unprocessed foods and you can guarantee you won’t get HFCS or other man-made sweeteners.
Where does fruit fit into the equation?
Fruit is nature’s sweetness wrapped up with nutrients, antioxidants and fiber. I especially love low-glycemic fruit such as wild blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, blackberries, and even kiwis. Unless they have metabolic syndrome or other blood sugar imbalances, most kids do okay with some higher-glycemic fruit like mango or pineapple, although lower-glycemic choices are always better. Fruit juice is another story. Stripped of its fiber and often heavily processed, it provides a huge sugar surge similar to soda. Fruit juice is mostly fructose, the most metabolically damaging sugar that wreaks havoc on the liver, and can have as much sugar if not more than a soda. Quick answer: Keep fruit and skip the juice.