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 Naturopathic Medicine: The Sour Side of Sugar - Breaking the Sugar Habit for Better Health  
 
Lauri Aesoph M. ND ©

Sugar High
Unfortunately, most kids still indulge in high-sugar foods as often as possible, and parents regularly complain that sugar makes their children "hyper". Does sugar really cause youngsters to go berserk?

"The first thing I look at," says Eric Jones, ND, Administration Representative of Bastyr University in Seattle "is if a child has actually been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (what used to be called hyperactivity)." According to Jones, at least 50 percent of ADD children are misdiagnosed. ADD (or ADHD as it's often called) is a complicated and often misunderstood condition. But impulsive, uncoordinated, irritable children who can't pay attention, cry easily or tend to withdraw may be hyperactive.

An unstable home life, food allergies, food additives, heavy metal toxicity, exposure to drugs while in the womb or even an unrecognized need for glasses may contribute to ADD. The sugar-hyperactivity may be a medical myth. In a study published in the July 1995 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, J.W. White and M. Wolraich showed that sugar and other carbohydrates actually have a calming effect, at least in adults.

Regardless of the research, Dr. Jones says at least half of his ADD patients improve when taken off sugar and other sweeteners like corn syrup, although taking candy away from a child doesn't usually solve the whole problem, and all children react differently. A study performed at Yale University School of Medicine did provide one reason why sugar energizes some children. T.W. Jones found that sugar increases adrenaline, a stimulating hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, far more in children than in adults (12).

What's more, sugar and caffeine can be a potent combination in kids. In a survey of 800 school children reported by J.L. Rapoport in a 1986 issue of Nutrition Reviews, those who drank a lot of caffeinated soda were more likely to be labeled hyperactive by their teachers than those who ingested less caffeine. Even food allergies and intolerances (including to sugar) may send your bouncing baby boy ricocheting off the walls.

What is Sugar?
Each American eats an average of 100 lbs of refined sugar every year (15). That's a daily sugar dose equivalent to more than three and a half cans of coke a day. Thus the average American may be hobbling around with a chronically crippled immune system, always on the edge of a cold or some other sickness.

Once upon a time, when dietary sugar was controlled and distributed by the cook of the family, we knew what was sweetened and what was not. Since then the convenience of purchasing prepared food has replaced home cooking, and food manufacturers do most of the menu planning. Today, sugar infiltrates everything from crackers and soup to canned fruits and cereals. This omnipresent substance masquerades as sucrose, glucose, dextrose, corn syrup (and high fructose corn syrup), white and brown sugars, among others.

If your sweet tooth is getting out of hand, here are a few simple steps to take toward sugar-free eating.

  1. Identify the problem. Do you eat sugar everyday? Several times a day? If so, it's time to cut back.
  2. Wean yourself off sugar, slowly but continuously.
  3. Learn the different names for sugar. Read labels, identify foods with sugar in them and avoid buying them.
  4. Shop in the periphery of the grocery store. Most processed foods (to which sugar has been added) are in the middle. Produce, meats and dairy foods line most stores' outer aisles.
  5. Don't substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar. They're associated with other health problems and merely feed your craving for more sugar.
  6. Discover the sweetness of nature. Substitute fresh and dried fruits for sugary treats. Try herbal teas--many are naturally sweet. Drink unsweetened fruit juice mixed with seltzer instead of soft drinks.
  7. Be wary of "natural sweeteners" such as honey and brown sugar. Although many of these are less refined than white sugar (though not always), they still depress immunity.
  8. Learn how to cook and bake without sugar. Visit natural food stores for cookbook ideas, and read more about sugar's effect on health.
Improving one's eating is an age-old New Year's resolution. Breaking the sugar habit and reinforcing your body's fortress against disease take education, time and small steps. If you strolled through candy-cane lane this past holiday season, it's time to take steps towards the path of sweet, sugar-free health. Sugarless cookie anyone?
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