It’s Halloween, a day when many parents turn a blind eye to the sweet treats their children consume. Sure, sugar is known to wreak havoc on teeth and is a likely contributing factor to the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, but can one day of sugar consumption really be all that harmful?
According to Mark Kauffman, DO, a family medicine osteopathic physician from Erie, Pa., parents can safely assume that one day will probably not cause too much damage, but it’s important to be aware that sugar in soft drinks and many other foods targeted at children can lead to health problems down the road if consumed in excess on a regular basis.
“Sugar is not inherently bad for you or your children,” explains Dr. Kauffman. Sugars and starches are good because they provide energy to the body in the form of glucose, which is the only energy source for red blood cells and is the preferred energy source for the brain and central nervous system. “The difference between whether sugar is a benefit or a detriment to your health rests largely on the type and amount of sugar a person consumes,” Dr. Kauffman says.
Some sugars exist naturally in foods, like fructose in fruit and lactose in milk. Other foods contain added sugars, which are sugars or syrups that are added to foods at the table or during processing or preparation (such as high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks.) These added sugars still provide energy to red blood cells, but they come at a price. “Added sugars supply calories but few to no nutrients,” says Dr. Kauffman.
If children are filling up on sugar, they're missing the chance to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nonfat milk and other nutritious foods. “The more a child eats foods with added sugars, like those found in their Halloween sacks, the more difficult it is to consume enough nutrients without gaining weight,” he says.
So, what can you do this Halloween? Dr. Kauffman has the following tips:
• Have your children sort their candy into three piles: their favorites, the middle of the roads, and those they don’t care for. Package the first two groups into smaller bags and monitor when they’re eaten. The rest can be thrown away, which seems wasteful, but is better than the risk to your health.
• Consider handing out treats other than candy, such as Halloween stickers, pencils or erasers, plastic spider rings, small toys or temporary tattoos. Hopefully, these alternative treats will inspire other parents for next year.
For every other day of the year, Dr. Kauffman suggests parents:
• Avoid sticky, sweet foods, such as processed fruit bars, candy and caramel. They are the worst offenders when it comes to tooth decay.
• Limit soft drinks. They are often the biggest contributors of added sugar in the diet.
• Cut back on sweets, such as cakes, cookies and ice cream. These foods are doubly harmful because of their high sugar and high fat content.
• Read labels. Manufacturers are not required to list the percentage of sugar calories, so review the ingredient list.
• Use more spices in lieu of sugar. Cinnamon, vanilla, spearmint and anise provide a sweet taste to food without adding sugar or calories.
So, should you be afraid of letting your kids indulge this Halloween? Not exactly. As long as you limit the amount of added sugar in their diet the other 364 days of the year, and make sure nutritious food is the standard, you’ve got nothing to fear this Halloween.
Preventive medicine is just one aspect of care osteopathic physicians (D.O.s) provide. Osteopathic physicians are fully licensed to prescribe medicine and practice in all specialty areas including surgery. D.O.s are trained to consider the health of the whole person and use their hands to help diagnose and treat their patients.
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