The candy-coated elephant in the room

The title of the article looked promising: “Raising Food-Smart Kids: 10 ways to help your child develop a positive relationship with healthy food.” So I clicked on the link and to read the article posted on WebMD and described as “selected and controlled by WebMD’s editorial staff in collaboration with Sanford Health Systems” and written by Jennifer Warner.

I scanned the article for useful tips. I noticed the usual rote digs at dietary fat, especially vexing when aimed at children. The content-free recommendations for a “good,” but undefined, breakfast. The usual stuff that gets my goat. But when I was done, I noticed a peculiar, empty sensation. What was it? I tried to identify it.

Something was missing. But what?

What had she said about sugar? I couldn’t remember. So I punched Control-F and typed “sugar” to home in on whatever her take was.

No hit.

Nothing.

The word “sugar” did not appear in this article about dealing with children and healthy food. (Nor did “fructose” or any other sugar-related term I could think of.)

Probably the single biggest problem with children’s health today is the amount of sugar in the diet. Yes, they’re eating fake colors and preservatives, too much high-tech soy, GMOs. I didn’t say it was the only problem. But probably, probably the single biggest problem. Yet, even in tips with headings like “Praise healthy choices” and “Don’t nag about unhealthy choices,” no advice was offered about how to reduce the amount of sugar the kid might be shoveling in.

The reader learns that when his child asks for potato chips, for example, she should be offered baked tortilla chips with salsa, instead. Yum, every kid’s favorite! Not to mention, this is no doubt the brainchild of someone who has not been conditioned to immediately recognize any liquidy, chunky, tomato-based condiment as belonging to the class of Things Children Spill Everywhere Unless You Watch Them Every Second, and therefore not suitable for low-maintenance impromptu kid snacks.

Never mind that. Every parent knows that discouraging a kid from eating potato chips is, well, child’s play, compared to raising a kid not to live on candy.

Candy. Ice cream. Soda pop. Cookies. Snack cakes. Were any of these so much as mentioned in the article? No.

How about the prevalence of added sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup on processed and packaged foods of all types, not just sweets? Not mentioned.

Too much sugar isn’t something that “simply fails to be good for you,” in the words of a high-school friend many years ago. It’s actively bad for you. See “Is Sugar Toxic?” by award-winning science journalist Gary Taubes writing in the New York Times Magazine in April 2011.

Getting and keeping kids off sugar is probably the single most important thing you can do for their health. You want to raise “food-smart” kids? You want to teach good nutritional choices? In our food culture, you can’t do it without teaching the proper place of sugar in the diet. That is to say, minimal.

I see kids all around mine eating sugar all day — literally for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus snacks and beverages. Those kids don’t see sugary snacks as special treats. They feel them as necessities. They live on sugar and authentically feel bad when they don’t get it. I’ve witnessed this. It took a while for me to understand they’re not being brats when, for example, neighbor kids playing at my house beg me, frequently and periodically, for candy and juice (they’ve learned there’s no pop here, only ultra-watered-down juice that I guess they figure is better than nothing); they’re responding to their metabolic states.

The advice in this article would do nothing to open the eyes of any of those kids’ parents. Because the biggest single problem their kids have with food — too much sugar — isn’t even mentioned!

(By the way, I searched for more articles by the same writer, Stephanie Booth, and guess what I found — this one on MedicineNet.com: “Can Food Really Affect Your Child’s Behavior? Experts bust the sugar-hyperactivity myth and other misconceptions about food and children’s behavior.” Uh-huh.)

So if you think tossing off comments about how great the lean protein in turkey is for playing sports better (heaven forbid WebMD in collaboration with Sanford Health would mention beef, or protein without the palliative “lean”), or keeping dried fruit on hand for those days you don’t have time to melt chocolate to dip strawberries into when Junior wants a snack (I’m not making these up, and please know that dried fruit is an extremely concentrated source of sugar), go for it and please drop me some comments and let me know how it’s working.

Meantime, the candy-coated, nougat-filled, chocolate-sprinkled covered elephant is pretty much stomping all over the room.