Pick up the Sunday supplement of your newspaper, glance through a weekly or monthly magazine and you are bound to find at least one article telling us in no uncertain terms that in just a few years more, India will have the notorious fame of having become the diabetes capital of the world. Diabetes has been described as “fast reaching epidemic proportions” in our country. While consumption of excess sugar is not directly linked to diabetes, it slowly but surely adds to weight gain and there are no two ways about the fact that an unhealthy body weight can lead to diabetes in the long run.
It’s time to wake up and wake up fast, especially where our children are concerned. No one is ‘born’ with a sweet tooth. Sadly, it is us mothers or grandmothers who, in our obsession to make our child eat as much as we want him to eat, resort to introducing sugar early in a child’s diet. “He doesn’t like vegetables? Fine! Just mix ghee and sugar and roll it up in his chapatti! That way he will have eaten at least a chapatti. He needs the carbohydrates. Oh, she doesn’t like daal (lentils)? No problem, just add a couple of spoons of sugar and watch her slurp it up! She needs her proteins, after all!”
It is sad but true that the above scenarios do take place in many Indian homes. In our eagerness to get milk down their throats, we resort to adding sugary supplements of dubious nutritious value or just add plain sugar and then when the child stops drinking even that, we often go on increasing the amount of sugar, in a skewed bid to ensure adequate calcium consumption.
We are being bombarded by advertisements about how ‘good’ mothers give their children packaged juices, said to be chock full of vitamins, along with the already sugary, fortified with iron, breakfast that came out of a cardboard box. What happened to munching a crunchy apple and having a palak (spinach) paratha?
I just read an article on Facebook, shared by a friend of mine who is a paediatrician in the United States. The articles talks about how a paediatric gastroenterologist of Indian origin has succeeded in banning fruit juice from being served in a particular children’s hospital as part of their convalescent diet. She says she has seen non alcoholic fatty livers in kids which closely resemble the fatty livers of chronic alcoholics. Research has attributed this to excess sugar in the children’s diet and the statistics are alarming.
The West, it seems, is slowly trying to move away from juices and colas and encouraging the gulping down of plain old water, while for our children, cola has moved from becoming an occasional treat to being a must have. When was the last time you attended a kids’ birthday party where sugary drinks were NOT served? And considering how often they are invited to these parties, they do land up consuming these drinks much more frequently than any sensible parent would want them to. We need to start a ‘back to nimbu pani (lemon juice and water) with a pinch of black salt’ movement!
Then comes the Bribery Brigade. “If you eat your rice you will get a toffee and if you finish your salad, I will give you ice cream.” Unknowingly these parents are sending a message that healthy food has to be tolerated and consumed and then sugar is the ultimate reward. So the child unconsciously imbibes the fact that having sugar is like winning a prize. These are the children who as adults, when faced with stress in their daily lives, are most likely to use sugar to reward themselves and then are more likely to become a part of a vicious weight gain cycle. The havoc that unrestricted sugar intake wrecks on those tiny baby teeth and subsequently on the permanent ones, is a different story altogether. The only person left smiling and flashing his/her pearly whites at the end of it all is the dentist!
Our children are already taking in the sugar that they need to grow in many different and natural ways. It is safest to restrict sugary treats to their birthdays and festivals and a few other very special occasions. I know the pastries in the corner cake shop just beg to be bought every week but they are best left there. Your kids may grumble now, but one day, maybe when they are in their forties, they will surely thank you for the “restricted sugar” diet you put them on in their childhood!
As Mary Poppins says in the movie, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” But curb the sugar consumption and see how much less medicine the kids need to take in, now and in the future too!
Meet Anupama – An archaeologist by qualification, an educational entrepreneur by profession, a linguist by inclination, a writer by vocation! I am a mother of an eleven year old son and a seventeen year old daughter. Currently based in Kenya due to my husband’s job, I manage my Academy in my home town Pune from across the ocean and continue teaching on Skype. To know about my life in Nairobi, memories from India and anything and everything that touches a chord with me, do read my blog: www.kenyankronikals.blogspot.com