Wednesday, July 16, 2014



“Briefly, inflammation is a telltale sign that something isn’t right in the body, that the body is encountering harmful stimuli, which can be any number of things from pathogens to damaged cells and irritants.  To protect itself and try to remove the injurious stimuli, the body triggers inflammation, an elaborate response involving the vascular system, the immune system, and various cells within the injured tissue.  The ultimate goal is to start healing, but when inflammation becomes chronic due to disease or prolonged stress, it can become destructive.  One of the ways we can measure inflammation in the body is by assessing levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a protein whose levels increase when inflammation is present…Researchers are now discovering bridges between certain kinds of inflammation and our most pernicious degenerative diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and an accelerated aging process in general.  Virtually all chronic conditions have been linked to chronic inflammation, which, put simply, creates an imbalance in your system that stimulates negative effects on your health.”  

              -- from The End of Illness by David B. Agus, M.D.

Sugar is part of every lesson taught in our Growing Healthy Kids project.  Kids love sugar and no wonder.  It is sweet and it is the ingredient that makes candy fun. It is also more addictive than crack cocaine.  I see the addiction it causes in children every time I do a program at the Boys and Girls Club.  I will set a couple of bottles of soda on the table next to a bag of sugar.  The kids instantly want to drink the soda and to stick their fingers into the bag of sugar for a taste.  Boys will grab the sodas and stuff them into their pockets, then check to see if I am looking.  Girls will hover around the sugar bag and ask to have a taste.  It scares me to see how addictive sugar is and how powerfully addicted American children have become to it. 

Sugar starts a chain of inflammation in the body which is the spark which awakens many diseases.  While reading The End of Illness recently, the quote by Dr. Agus above really hit me.  While Dr. Agus’ primary focus is cancer and mine is obesity, we both share a common interest in educating others about what happens to your body and your health when you eat foods that promote disease.  Healing begins when you commit to eating more good foods and less of the bad. 

As promised in last week’s Wellness Wednesdays article, today’s lesson is about becoming a nutrition detective and learn what a day’s worth of sugar should be vs what people really eat.  Start with the facts about sugar:
  • Sugar has NO NUTRITIONAL VALUE – zippo – nada!   
  • Sugar has no vitamins
  • Sugar has no minerals
  • Sugar has no fiber
  • Sugar has no enzymes
  • Sugar DOES have calories, though, which is part of the problem.  Sugar has lots of calories (“empty calories”)
  • Sugar acts like a match that lights a fire, or inflammation, inside the body.  This is what Dr. Agus was talking about.

The first lesson in being a nutrition detective is to decide what to look for. The Nutrition Facts label shows grams of sugar that foods contain.   You can look for grams of sugar OR you can convert the grams to teaspoons of sugar.  You can also learn to spot the zillion different names of sugar and look for them on the list of ingredient on processed food.  Sugar has many names and if it is one (or two or three, as commonly happens in processed foods) of the first five ingredients on a label, then I recommend you NOT buy that food because it is mainly sugar.  Start by looking for these common names for sugar:  high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and cane sugar.

Small pile of sugar (4 teaspoons) is the most elementary age kids should consume in a day.  Middle pile is sugar in one soda (11 teaspoons).  Big pile is what an average American middle or high school student consumes in one day (33 teaspoons).  

The kids were very serious about their jobs as Nutrition Detectives.  
Thanks to the kids at Gifford Youth Activity Center in Vero Beach, Florida, for helping me with the demonstrations you see in the pictures.  According to American Heart Association, children ages 4-8 should eat and drink no more than 12.5 grams of sugar a day.  Divide 12.5 by 4 and you get 3 (and a fraction) teaspoons of sugar.  Kids ages 9-18 should be eating no more than 33 grams of sugar a day.  Divide 33 by 4 and you get 8-1/4 teaspoons of sugar. 
How much sugar are we eating every day, on average, in America? According to the American Heart Association, adults consume about 22 teaspoons a day and kids consume around 33 teaspoons a day. 

One 12 ounce soda (root beer was what we used in the demonstration at Gifford Youth Activity Center) has around 45 grams of sugar.  When you divide the grams of sugar by 4 you get the number of teaspoons of sugar.  So one can of soda has about 11-1/4 teaspoons of sugar, more sugar than kids should have in an entire day!   

To summarize:  
  • If you have elementary age children, they should be eating and drinking no more than 12.5 grams of sugar (or about 3 teaspoons) a day.
  • If your kids are in middle or high school, they should be eating and drinking no more than 33 grams of sugar  (or a little more than 8 teaspoons) a day.
  • The average amount of sugar a child 4-8 consumes in one day is 21 teaspoons!  
  • The average amount of sugar a kid 9-18 years of age consume is 33 teaspoons a day. 

I hope this lesson in how to be a Nutrition Detective will get you and your family checking Nutrition Facts labels when you go shopping.  Watch out for foods loaded with added sugars. Every day we have choices.  

If you would like more information about all the names for sugar, then get a copy of Nourish and Flourish (see top right corner).  This is the first book from the Growing Healthy Kids project.  It will guide you and your family on a path to better tasting food without sugar - and it is filled with kid-tested recipes!

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.