Children's Behavior and Diet

by Mark Moore, MD

Diet influences behavior

As an admitted chocoholic, I can answer this from professional and personal experience. This 2-part column will address both recognition of additives and then the effects it may have on your children's daily lives. There are countless substances we consume that directly affect our body and that of our children--too many to list. This column will focus on added sugar and my next column on its effects.

There are foods which naturally contain sugar -- example: fruit, seen as "fructose". Other foods add sugar or sugar-like substances. One of the problems is how commonly they are added to our foods and how hard it is to figure out the volume that ends up in our daily diet. Whether natural or added, they have similar effects.

When I was growing up, my mother and father, both with advanced college degrees didn't know what we know today about the nutritional value of food. The information was not easily accessible -- but also because the food companies didn't provide it for us on the packaging as they must do today. Thank the Clintons for putting teeth in the nutritional facts law in the mid-90's.

This law alone will not protect your children. On a recent grocery store visit, I picked up a "candied apple" from the shelf. It looked delicious -- slathered thick with chocolate and covered with every known favorite confection known to man. I read the label -- 200 calories; that didn't compute. But wait -- this apple has 8 servings! Multiply the 200 calories times 8 to get the total amount provided by this candied apple. So its a 1600 calorie "treat" but only 200 calories "per serving" if eight people share it. This one item exceeds your child's entire daily caloric intake.

Mothers need to police what they buy because what they bring into their homes will get eaten. We once brought home a cute gingerbread house kit to assemble for Christmas -- 180 calories per serving -- but it had an amazing 40 servings! Those 8000 calories could get nibbled up in a week.

Serving your family a proper balanced diet has become difficult in the U.S. Sorry to say it is more expensive to eat healthy, too. Majority of this problem has surfaced in the last thirty years. It accounts for the fact that a growing number of people are obese and have weight-related ailments. This said, there is a place for treats and junky snack foods. We are all human. The place it deserves is as a very tiny part of daily living and not the overwhelming caloric burden it makes up in today's diets. It takes attention to detail to do the right thing for our children.

Sugar as the main ingredient: most people would not think to dip a big spoonful of granulated white sugar in their mouth every hour of their waking day -- but we do this unknowingly. Majority of liquids consumed, except for the diet drinks, are simple flavored water plus sugar. Even natural juices are being re-examined for their so-called "health benefits." Their role in adding calories to an already calorie-loaded diet may out-weight their benefits. We are seeing a shift encouraging shift towards drinking more water.

Popular breakfast cereals contain processed carbohydrates plus added sugar. The first or second ingredient are the major ones.but besides the word "sugar", also look for the words "corn syrup," "glucose" or "brown sugar".

Someone is eating all those candy bars, cookies, and confection snacks. It's the reason you can go to any store selling anything, and there is a rack of candy and snacks at the checkout counter. The auto parts store manager told me that they are some of his best selling items.

I will mention that while sugar is the simplest of carbohydrates, we must lessen our children's dependence on all simple carbohydrates -- and in particular, lower our intake of salted snack foods like chips and french fries.

Five stars to grammar schools that have helped guide their students to eat better by serving nutritional meals, removing vending machines, discouraging junk-food snacks, and supporting non-confectionery holiday celebrations.

Mark Moore, MD is an experienced Anesthesiologist, sub-specializating in women's and children's anesthesia. He holds board certifications in both Anesthesiology and Pain Management. Dr. Moore and his wife, Lisa, a pediatric nurse, are the authors of Baby Girl or Baby Boy. They live in Tallahassee, Florida.e.

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AnnaRO's picture

Submitted by AnnaRO on

I know the greatest challenge isn't always what I bring into my home. When I am home with my kids, I provide them with their food and drinks. My problem is that others like grandparents and aunts don't believe that my daughter prefers water and likes veggies, so they don't even bother to provide them to her!! Instead the give juice and cookies. How do you combat that?