Saturday, September 30, 2023

Swimming Upstream: Sugar and Processed Foods

1. Sugar and processed foods

“Everything in moderation” is my dietary motto, and I make a valiant attempt to put this motto into practice in my own home. My kids are allowed one reasonably sized bowl of chips after school and one reasonably sized treat after dinner. We convene each evening for a generally balanced and mostly nutritious home-cooked meal. I don’t make too much of a fuss about nutrition labels because I don’t want to model this behavior for my daughter (see: body image), but I am intentional about what foods we bring back from the grocery store.

Still, sugar finds a way to seep into our house, or if not our house, my children’s mouths. It’s friggin’ everywhere. It’s in the chocolate milk that our public school district inexplicably makes available to its students. It’s in the bags of gummy bears that a church uses to try to lure my kids to Jesus while they’re walking home from school. It sails from floats at parades and explodes from birthday piñatas and lurks in Gatorade at sports events and bursts through the seams of paper bags on Valentine’s Day.

Any one of these scenarios on their own, of course, is not that big a deal. But the compound effect is not negligible. We live in a country where nearly 20 percent of children aged two to 19 are obese and where diabetes in youth under 20 is expected to surge by 700 percent over the next few decades.

I occasionally attend birthday parties for one-year-olds, for which the parents have invested considerable energy into baking some kind of well-intentioned sweet potato cake because their baby’s body is a temple into which only breast milk and whole foods have flowed. I wonder if I should warn them about the tidal wave of sugar that is poised to engulf their precious bundle of joy. 

But I don’t want to be a spoilsport on their baby’s Big Day. Unfortunately, they will find out soon enough.

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