If you’ve been reading the news lately, you’ve likely seen the headlines: cutting way back on sugar can improve your child’s health drastically in just days! A study proves it! But is the news reporting the full story? Is the study really all that valid to begin with? Before you throw the Sugar Babies out with the bathwater, though, let’s take a look at what the news is saying versus what Touro University actually studied and see how it all relates to the real world.
What the news is saying about kids cutting back on sugar
A glance at the headlines leads you to believe that this was some sort of massive controlled study performed over numerous years involving a sampling of thousands of kids. At a glance, a few headlines that stand out include:
- Eating less sugar can improve children’s health in less than two weeks, Touro University study finds
- Cutting Sugar Boosts Children’s Health In 10 Days: How To Reduce Sugar Intake Of Kids
- Cutting sugar from kids’ diets can improve their health in just 10 days — without cutting calories: study
These are from respected news outlets, not tabloid rags. What do those headlines say to you? They lead me into believing that simply cutting out or significantly reducing sugar from my child’s diet will show me drastic changes practically overnight. That last one makes me think I can feed him like a horse, as long as there’s no sugar involved!
What does the study REALLY show?
Now let’s look at the actual study on which these stories were based. Touro University studied the effects of a “sugar-free” diet on 43 children with metabolic syndrome over the course of 9 days. They substituted fructose with starch, a carbohydrate that eventually breaks down into a simpler sugar-glucose.
Let’s talk about the bold points quickly.
- 43 Kids in the Study: Based on the latest numbers, there are about 12.7 million obese kids in the US. About 1.2 million of those kids have metabolic syndrome. 43 kids is about 0.0034% of that. I know with studies, one person represents a whole bunch more for statistics, but 43 out of 1.2 million seems small, right?
- WITH Metabolic Syndrome: Again, that’s important. Metabolic syndrome isn’t a disease itself, but a cluster of factors that increase your risk for certain diseases, like diabetes and heart disease. A diagnoses requires three of the following: a large waistline, high triglyceride levels, low HDL levels, high blood pressure and/or high blood sugar. All the kids sampled were diagnosed. The results may not be the same for children without metabolic syndrome, and there was no control group.
- Substituted sugar with starch: The study cut out fructose, the sugar that we commonly refer to when talking about dietary sugar. They replaced it with starch. Starch breaks down into glucose, also a sugar, albeit a far simpler one than fructose. Confused yet? Here’s a great article on the difference between sugar and starch.
Here’s another interesting tidbit: The study was self-monitored. The kids were sent home with 9 days of food. Parents were given a scale and instructions on how to record their child’s weight, as well as how to prep the food. Parents and kids were solely responsible for complying with the study.
The study is interesting, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t exactly what the media is reporting.
So SHOULD You Reduce Your Child’s Sugar Intake?
Will cutting back on sugar make your kids healthier? While the study may have been flawed (and media hype even more flawed), the overall message brings up valid points.
Cutting back on added dietary sugar makes sense. Doctors and dentists have been telling us for ages that less sugar is better for your child’s health. Your health too! It’s always made sense. It’s why we grab the juice box with a label that prominently displays 25% less sugar, limit the candy and avoid giving our kids soda. We don’t need a study to tell us less sugar is better, even I can’t find any pros to why we should eat MORE sugar, unless your doctor specifically tells you to do so!
Should we cut out ALL sugars? Are there cons to that? Again, it depends on what type of sugar we’re talking about. Remember, glucose is a sugar too! Glucose serves an important function in the human body. It’s like fuel for your cells. This super scientific article explains glucose pretty well.
In the study above, we discovered that swapping out fructose for starch worked wonders on the small sample of kids. Maybe it can be translated to a larger sample group. Even if it can’t, the message remains: you can get your necessary sugars from other sources without downing a Pixie stick.
The ultimate decision really all comes down to you. I think we can all agree that feeding your child a daily diet of brownies for breakfast, ice-cream for lunch and chocolate bars for dinner is be a bad idea! As for the rest of it though, you have to decide if your child needs to cut back on sugar more or if you’ve already got that covered.
One final word: I struggle with chemistry. If you feel I did a poor job explaining the glucose vs. fructose, starch vs. sugar connection, or explained something the wrong way, please let me know. I know what I’m trying to say, but have great difficulty translating left-brain knowledge into right-brain creativity, if that makes sense. Sometimes the science just doesn’t want to come out of my head!