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Reduce your family’s sugar intake

A few days ago I made a video for Facebook with two kids (mine) and a dog (not mine). It was all about the Family Sugar Detox challenge that we have coming up.

It’s based on the premise that we wouldn’t feed sugar to our pets, so why do we eat it ourselves? The “masterpiece” (hmmmm) is 91 seconds long. It involved two hours of practice and a few hundred takes and I now owe my friend Claire lunch — with wine!

Also involved: cubes of cheese hidden behind my back (dog problems), lots of slobber (cheese problems), a very annoying breeze (hair problems) and some fighting over who would hold the Oreos (kid problems). They say never work with animals and children. I think we can all agree that’s a good idea. However, there were no salt lamps involved in this week’s saga, so that’s a bonus (I have been stubbornly using them by the way and no one has been electrocuted ….so far.)

Despite the epic patience involved in our little video experiment, the hardest part was buying the props. Sunkist, fruit punch, cookies, Skittles …. I half expected the cashier to stop me. I thought she’d ask me what the hell I was doing with all that junk. Not because she knows me, but because of the sheer volume of crap. Problem is, she didn’t bat an eyelid. Maybe she was just being polite. But maybe people buy that much junk all the time.

In the run-up to writing the Family Sugar Detox, I experimented at home with the children. We gave up the vast majority of sugary stuff for 21 days to see how we would manage. It’s not that we have a lot of junk in our house, but the organic sugar sources (granola bars, cookies, yoghurts) were piling up. Also, every snack seemed to be sweet. What happened to the carrot sticks and hummus? Sugar was winning every single time.

So, after chatting with the girls, we decided to avoid all added sugar, honey, maple syrup and other sweeteners. The exception would be birthday parties or events where other people had catered for them and there were no other options. I didn’t want to be rude, let the kids go hungry, or make them sit on the sidelines at cake time. What we did get rid of however were 1) cookies with their fruit snack at school, 2) the sweet treat in the lunch box (usually a square of dark chocolate), 3) sweet after-school snacks and 4) desserts/ice-cream at home. Cumulatively, that was a huge amount and hopefully we won’t slide back.

The reason we chose 21 days was because science shows us it typically takes 21 days to break a habit or develop a new one. I’ve chosen 14 days for the new programme though, as I really felt we were in the swing of it by then. Also, for beginners, it feels like a more manageable step. Two weeks really isn’t all that long.

Did we miss the sweet stuff? I was fine, except I totally fell off the wagon — overshare alert — the day my cycle arrived. The girls had their moments but were so motivated by the prize at the end (pony rides in St George’s) that they didn’t really mind. Also, we found some great alternatives and their taste buds adjusted quickly. Belle has a naturally sweeter tooth, so I thought she might struggle, but once we were done I noticed a couple of things: she asked for carrot sticks herself instead of me asking her to eat them, she told me the honey on her toast was too sweet and she forgot about the candy in her most recent party bag. That’s pretty major for her!

With a little planning and support, I think it’s pretty easy to drastically cut down on your family’s sugar intake. It might not go to plan the first time but it’s certainly worth the effort, especially given the connection between sugar, weight gain, fatigue and chronic disease (with or without the weight gain). I often hear people say “just let the kids have their fun” as the weight gain or disease aspect seems so far off. Yet, every single day in the office I work with people who are still trying to break free from childhood dietary habits. If we reward or comfort kids with food, we set a precedent for a lifetime — a dangerous one at that. Here are some tips for reducing everyone’s exposure!

Reduce your family’s sugar intake in five easy steps:

1. Try not to reward, pacify or occupy with food

This is hard I know! It’s cheap, easy and completely second nature to most of us. How often do we fall into the doughnut or frozen yoghurt habit? Try and reward with experiences (movies, family time, BUEI, Dockyard, etc) or small gifts like books, stickers, a new App. Comfort with hot herbal tea, fun bath time, cute Band-Aids or hugs. Occupy with stories, educational TV (try Disney Nature, Octonauts, Wild Kratz), colouring, crafts.

2. Ditch the sweet drinks

With up to 22 teaspoons of sugar in sodas, fruit punch or juices, many of us are drinking our way into sugar mayhem. Get the sweet drinks out of your house. It’s much easier to say “we don’t have any” than “you can’t have any”. Try keeping it simple with plain water (still or sparking is fine) or infused options are OK too. Just watch out for artificial sweeteners and note that citric acid (in fruit) can damage dental enamel — so don’t drink lemon water all day!

3. Switch up your breakfast cereals

Cereals are classic hiding spots for added sugars. Note that 4g “sugars” equals one teaspoon and that the serving size is often misleading. Try livening up completely plain cereal (eg oatmeal or Cheerios) with whole fruit, vanilla or cinnamon.

4. Include more savoury snacks

Bring back the veggie sticks and hummus/salsa/guacamole. Try organic cheese and plain nuts. The Mediterranean Company lentil chips are good too (stick to sea salt flavour) as well as the Sheffa Savoury bars (from Miles and Devil’s Isle).

5. Take the two-week challenge!

The intro to our Family Sugar Detox takes place on Wednesday June 1, with the actual challenge starting next weekend (June 4 or 5 — you decide!). On June 1 you’ll receive your Sugar Detox Survival Guide including tips for setting your goals (different for everyone) and ideas for motivating the whole family. This isn’t a completely no-sugar plan, but we’ll be giving up the excess together and getting used to a new normal. The idea is to help reset everyone’s taste buds so that eating low-sugar is painless. Taking part as a family means that you have a more supportive environment in which you can succeed. For complete details, go to www.natural.bm or feel free to give me a call. Together, we can kick the sugar habit before summer!

The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is the managing director of Natural Ltd and a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a registered dietitian. For details, please go to www.natural.bm or call 236-7511. Join Catherine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nutrifitandnaturalnutritionbermuda