Is there a sizable health difference in consuming refined sugars versus unrefined sugars?
I have a few points to make on this. The natural sugar found in fruit is very different than the white (refined) sugar you’ll find in cookies and ice cream. Natural sugar comes packaged with fiber, which slows down how quickly your body digests the sugar, and an array of good-for-you vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. White sugar has none of those things. Fruit is a terrific and healthy way to satisfy your child’s sweet tooth.
Unrefined sugars such as honey, molasses, and maple syrup are a touch better for you than refined sugar—but you still need to make sure your child doesn’t overdo them. Most unrefined sugars contain disease-fighting antioxidants, and some have other health-boosting properties (honey, for instance, can be used as a cough suppressant). However, even unrefined sugars are a significant source of calories, and can lead to the same blood sugar swings as refined sugars that can leave your child cranky and tired.
In your opinion, are sugar substitutes such as Splenda safe for kids?
If your child gets in the habit of washing down meals with diet lemonade or fruit punch, he or she is getting accustomed to that super-sweet flavor and will come to expect it. As a result, he or she may need even more sweetness to feel satisfied, and may avoid unsweetened beverages that will taste ‘boring’ in comparison. Instead of fueling your child’s sweet tooth by pouring artificially sweetened drinks, make water the default drink and sugared beverages something to be enjoyed on special occasions. Even better, make your own unsweetened drink, like lemonade, and have your child add his or her own sugar—he or she will use a lot less than comes in packaged versions, and will learn to regulate his or her own sweet tooth. And if you keep sweet drinks to an “every once in a while” status, there’s no reason to give your child artificial sweeteners to save a few calories.
Rachel Aydt is a freelance writer, journalism teacher at NYC’s The New School, and frequent contributor to NYMetroParents. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and son.