Author: Angela Warm, Seasonal Health Editor
Keeping your kids healthy and happy this summer, sans sugar, can be easier than you think.
Summer time and the living is easy.
Ok maybe not this summer. 2020 has definitely thrown normal out the window. Yes your travel plans may have changed, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on staying healthy. You want to give your kids a memorable summer considering what they’ve been going through this year already. But it’s important to look for ways to enjoy summer while avoiding sugar and boosting your immune system.
What is Sugar?
While technically a carbohydrate, sugar comes in many forms beyond the white crystal like powder aka sucrose, we often associate it with. In fact there are over 56 different names for sugar. Which is why the topic of sugar can be confusing as well as hard to avoid. Finding healthier alternatives, practicing moderation, and being more sugar aware are the best ways to take action against sugar.
The average person in most developed countries consumes over 22 teaspoons of sugar per day. The recommended limit for the daily dose of sugar is around 11 grams, or roughly no more than 5% of daily calorie intake. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this number should never exceed 25 grams. Many people consume far more than the recommendation.
Why is Sugar Bad?
For starters we don’t have an off switch when it comes to sugar. That is why kids are always asking for it and adults can find themselves elbow deep in a bag of cookies asking themselves what just happened?
Back in the caveman days, we were programmed to consume large quantities of naturally occurring sugar. If we happened to stumble across a berry bush in the wild, we could fuel up so we had energy to run from a saber tooth tiger or other danger. Unfortunately we never developed an “off” switch when it comes to sugar. Most unfortunate considering it can be found in about everything these days.
Sugar weakens the immune system and makes you more susceptible to colds and other viruses floating around. While sugar may act as a temporary source of energy, it has no nutritional value. Kids that consume higher levels of sugar are at greater risk of diabetes, suppressed immunity, obesity, and tooth decay. Extreme levels of sugar in children can interfere with neurotransmitters, those wires responsible for keeping moods stable.
If you think that reducing your sugar intake is going to be boring or damn near impossible? Think again. You don’t have to feel deprived while enjoying your summer favorites.
Avoid prepackaged foods whenever possible.
Prepackaged meals or quick snacks may be tempting when you have hungry mouths to feed and don’t want to be slogging over a hot stove all day. But it is important to be aware of the high content of added sugar and calories (not to mention chemicals and preservatives) found in prepackaged foods. Ingredients such as salt, sugar and fat are oftentimes added to prepackaged (boxed) foods to make their flavor more appealing and to extend their shelf life.
Buying overly processed foods can lead people to eat more than the recommended amounts of sugar, salt and fat as they tend to contain less nutrients. Thus requiring more input to satisfy your hunger cravings and make you feel full. These foods can also be higher in calories due to the high amounts of added sugar or fat in them. If you are opting for some prepackaged foods, make sure to check the labels.
Replace sugary “treats” with healthier options
Try experimenting with replacing sugar in recipes with healthier options such as dates, honey, coconut sugar, applesauce, or maple syrup. You will be surprised how easy and delicious it can be. Ditch sugary, and sometimes artificially flavored toppings or salad dressings with healthier options. One of the tastiest and low-cal salad dressings is simply a squeeze of lemon (the real stuff) and olive oil with salt and pepper. Try almond butter or honey instead of artificial jam or chocolate over your toast. Or protein rich parmesan, nutritional yeast flakes or paprika instead of caramel over your air or stove popped popcorn.
It is important to encourage your children to associate fresh fruit as dessert. Seasonal fruits that haven’t traveled a long distance should taste as sweet as candy, while being a much healthier snack option. When in season they also have a high percentage of fiber, minerals and a host of vitamins essential for everyone. Opt for variety rather than always eating the same fruit each week. We always keep a big bowl of fruit on the table that the kids can help themselves to. Having it readily available and visible helps them make good choices on their own, and diminishes the power struggle when they are always asking for treats.
For the less time constrained among you, try using more fruits when making desserts. Got overripe bananas on hand? Consider freezing them and mixing them with other frozen fruit for a delicious and nutritious, low-sugar ice cream alternative.
Replace single serving yogurts with plain yogurt and a small amount of honey and nutritious toppings such as granola, seeds and coconut flakes. Finally, ditch the sugary cereals for porridge / oatmeal with fruit on top, or scrambled eggs with spinach. Starting off your morning with something savory instead of something sweet, means you are less likely to crave sweets all day.
Stay hydrated without the sugar and empty calories
Drinking plain or filtered water is the best way to keep yourself and your kids hydrated in warmer weather. Forgo the sugary drinks (i.e. syrups, sodas, energy drinks) and focus on transforming ho-hum water into something fun and tasty for the kids. While they may not agree at first, allowing them to add fruit or fresh herbs to the water pitcher, will create a sense of empowerment and make them more likely to drink the healthy water. Try using crazy straws and special water bottles to add an element of fun. You could also make healthy smoothies or aqua fresca with seasonal fruits on hand. Switch up the water with cold pressed fruit flavored teas.
The most important tip of all
Whatever you decide, ensure that your kids stay healthy this summer by having fun. Drinking flavored fruit water from a crazy straw or picking strawberries, can be a family friendly way to keep the kids involved..
Eating healthier and avoiding sugar is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and your kids. It will serve them well into adulthood to find healthier ways to please their sweet tooth. Here are my Top 10 Favorite Summer Recipes you and your family could try at home.
Let me know in the comments what you plan to do this summer for your health and immune system. Which recipes do you think will help your kids have a great time this summer without all the sugar?
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