Sugar: The Scariest Monster of All

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"The #1 Food Dr. Oz Wants Out Of Your House: Sugar." - doctoroz.com

Alessio peers out from his red mask of cobwebs, a pint-sized Spiderman. He is revved up, jumping all over the bed. I almost expect him to scale the walls.

My 3-year-old is just back from a costume birthday party, where he has consumed half his weight in chocolate cake, among other treats that turn out to be tricks - at least for parents who have to deal with the residuals of birthday-party sugar highs.

My 18-month old, Sienna, stands on the sidelines in her fairy outfit, watching her brother twirl in frantic cartwheels across the bed. They are both laughing, when suddenly Alessio lands on his feet in front her and pushes her.

“Alessio!” I give him a stern look.

He shakes his head Woody Allen style. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” he says in a tiny, exasperated voice.

I let him off easy with an apology and hug for Sienna. No time out. I know it’s the sugar and not Alessio’s normal behavior. What parent hasn’t dealt with the crazed aftermath of birthday parties? Hyperactivity. Aggression. Adrenaline levels in kids remain 10 times higher for up to 5 hours after eating sugar. It also increases the stress hormone cortisol.

So why do we do it to ourselves and to our kids? We think of treats as something nice, but new studies show that sugar can be both addictive and toxic. Researchers now believe sugar could be as bad for your health as fatty cheeseburgers. It is linked to obesity, type-2 diabetes and heart disease--three of our country’s biggest health concerns. The average American eats 150 pounds of sugar a year.

In the old days, we got most of our sugar from fruit, which is also high in fiber. Fiber offsets some of the toxic aspects of sugar by helping the body metabolize it. We weren’t prone to overeating it. How many oranges can you eat in a sitting? But these days, sugar can be found in almost anything - from snacks to condiments to fat-free foods. Much of the sugar we eat, we don’t even know we are eating unless we look at food labels.

No need to get spooked about sugar, especially at Halloween, but reducing sugar intake is a smart thing to do. It helps to have a plan. Before trick or treating, make sure your children are well fed with a good dinner that includes protein, which combats sugar side-effects. Set out the game plan before you leave the house, so your children can enjoy the experience and you don’t have to nag.

I tell Alessio, “When we get back, you can choose two pieces of candy to eat.” Once home, I stash the bag of candy out of reach, and bring it out every evening, letting him choose one piece for dessert. Your child is pleased because he gets to choose, and being specific about the amounts will defuse the interminable negotiating that a bagful of candy can often create.

When giving out candy in your neighborhood, go for small sizes instead of full-size. Boxes of raisins are healthy, but most kids don’t appreciate the thoughtfulness. If you’re a chocolate fan, consider this: 70% dark chocolate is good for you in moderate amounts. It has naturally less sugar and is full of anti-oxidants. Milk chocolate does not have the same health benefits. White chocolate isn’t even chocolate, but is just fat and sugar.

According to the National Dietetic Association, here are the top five low-sugar treats that won’t turn your kid into a goblin for real: Jolly Ranchers, Blow Pops, Gobstoppers, Pixy Stix and Candy Corn.

Happy Halloween!

Princess Ivana