Posted tagged ‘sugar’

Obesity: It’s not just the sugar

April 18, 2017

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

For a while, fat was the culprit – eating too much fat was making us fat. We were swamped by low-fat products, like cheese and salad dressings and even low-fat potato chips. Briefly, Burger King even offered low-fat French fries (Those quickly disappeared from the menu. Don’t mess with the fries.) Yet, with or without the low-fat foods, obesity rates continued to climb.

More-recently, sugar has emerged as the “deadly villain” in the obesity epidemic. Forget the fat – it’s the sugar, or the refined high fructose corn syrup, that’s messing with our metabolism and expanding waistlines. Just cut back—or eliminate—added sugar, and our weight problems will be over.

But a recent study from Australia shows that maybe it’s not so simple as blaming the sugar, either. Researchers there found that, on a population level, reduced sugar consumption was associated with an increasing rate of obesity. It’s funny how real-world data seems to clash with our little pet theories sometimes.

The authors used data about food consumption from several different academic and government sources, creating graphs of overall per capita sugar consumption among Australian adults and children from 1980 and 2011. Although the exact numbers vary by demographic groups, there was a clear overall trend towards less sugar intake over those years. They then looked at obesity rates, based on national surveys.

The combined data is in the graph below. Sugar consumption is in blue, and though it goes up and down some years, the overall trend is downwards. In red you can see the Australian obesity rates. There’s more data in the paper about specific groups (men versus women, children versus adults), but overall the trend is clear: less sugar consumption is associated with more obesity.

The authors conclude, “There may be unintended consequences of a singular focus on refined sugars…”

So if it’s not the sugars, and it’s not the fat, what is it? I think it’s unlikely that there is a single boogeyman, or a “one thing” we can point our fingers at as the culprit. Obesity has many contributors, including decreasing physical activity, eating bigger portions, and eating more frequently. Low-quality “fast food” is quick and convenient, but it’s certainly not cheap in the long run. A ton of extra sugar can’t be good for your teeth, and is one source of extra calories you don’t need. But it’s not just the sugar that we’re eating too much.

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Are sweets at bedtime a bad idea?

April 18, 2013

The Pediatric Insider

© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD

Jack wrote, “What is the deal with not allowing kids to eat dessert before bed? That’s how I was brought up, and how my kids have been brought up. My fiancée doesn’t allow her kids to have sweets after about 7:30 because she fears it will interfere with their sleep. Any truth to that theory? Or is it an old wives tale like not swimming after eating?”

That’d be one of those handy “little white lies.” Medically speaking, there’s no particular reason not to have sweets before bed, or (gasp!) not to eat prior to swimming.

I suppose if Junior does have a big bowl of ice cream, he’d better be sure to brush his teeth at bedtime. And a full belly at bedtime might just increase the chance of a nightmare. But I don’t think it really matters what the bedtime snack is.

There is a persistent feeling among many parents (and grandparents) that sugary, junky food gets kids hyper. I think that’s because these kinds of foods are often eaten at birthdays and happy occasions, when kids do get worked up. But when it’s been studied, simple carb meals don’t seem to change behavior in children, at least not when the kids and the observers are blinded. One study even looked at a small number of children with attention-deficit disorder, and found that sugar didn’t worsen their behavior. Those authors suggested that the perception of worse behavior may be related to those kids’ difficulty in adjusting back to classroom behavior after a snack.

In any case, I’ve found that it’s just about impossible to dispel the sugar-misbehavior contention, and I suspect it will be just as hard to convince parents that desserts before bed are no worse than desserts with dinner. It’s never bothered me or my kids, but if you’ve found it’s better to not have sweets later, that’s fine with me. It will at least make your dentist happy too.

When Gummys attack

November 10, 2008

Darcy asked: “I was once told(by a pediatrician) gummy type vitamins were bad for a child’s teeth and I should use the Flintstones type vitamins as a better alternative. What is in gummy vitamins that are making them so horrible for a child’s teeth? Honestly, if it the same type of “bad” for my daughter’s teeth as a regular gummy bear I would much rather give her these. She hates the Flintstones type vitamin. Thanks!”

I’ve got here a bottle of Gummy Vites, and the first two listed ingredients are “glucose syrup (corn), sucrose”. Either of these are essentially sugars, which aren’t great to have on your teeth. But they aren’t very big; each 2-gummy dose contains about the equivalent of one teaspoon of table sugar. You could give these before toothbrushing at bedtime, or have your child wash ‘em down with water. In the big picture, I doubt this amount of sugar would make much difference. I can’t imagine what would make a Gummy Vite worse than a regular gummy bear.

The first ingredient of Flintstones is sorbitol, a poorly-digested sugar that doesn’t contribute to tooth decay. What it can contribute to is loose stools and gas—sorbitol is a laxative. But, again, the amount in Flintstones is pretty small, and I doubt anyone would notice the difference.

If your daughter prefers the Gummys, go ahead and use them. They’re perfectly good vitamins, and fighting to get her to chew on Fred or Barney every morning doesn’t sound like it’s worth the yabba dabba doo time.

Organic infant formula? One brand is a bad idea

August 10, 2008

As reported by the New York Times, parents thinking that Similac Organic Infant Formula is healthier than conventional formulas are in for a surprise. The company that makes it, Ross, decided to use cane sugar as a sweetener. This makes Similac Organic taste sweeter than other infant formulas, and much sweeter than human milk. It’s riskier for a baby’s teeth, and is very likely to lead to over-eating. Worse still, it may help imprint a desire for sweeter foods starting at a very young age.

As discussed in this post, I’m not a proponent of organic foods. They’re more expensive, and I’m not convinced that they’re healthier or better for children. In the case of this particular infant formula, parents are paying about 30% more for a product that’s very likely to be less healthful than non-organic alternatives. You can’t assume that organic = more healthful.