Sugar-Free Parenting for a Sweet Childhood

Many people feel that I am sucking the joy out of my daughter’s life by denying her sugar. One friend even told me that a sugar-free childhood is no childhood at all.

I know that I may not be able to win the war against sugar as my daughter gets older and more exposed and pressured, but it was important to me to start healthy and to continue to have a No Sugar policy for my daughter (and myself) at home and during our time together. I cannot control the rest. That means no cake at birthday parties unless I make it. No cookies unless we’ve made them. No snack bars or toddler cookies with evaporated cane juice. Evaporated cane juice seems to be in all of the store-bought “natural” products for children but is actually just processed sugar with a few more minerals.

We know all of the reasons sugar is unhealthy for humans. Sugar causes diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity. You also know that by going cane-sugar free, you might just save hundreds or thousands on dentist costs, not to mention the pain of fillings.

What you may not know is that sugar has been found to be as addictive as cocaine. Some doctors even feel it should be controlled like alcohol.  Limiting sugar is a slippery slope in the same way that alcoholics and drug addicts cannot simply limit those substances and usually need to quit cold turkey. A body regularly exposed to sugar will crave more and more and will feel withdrawal symptoms when sugar isn’t ingested.

Even parents who do not allow “sweets” may be serving up much more sugar than they mean to in a combination of snacks, condiments and packaged foods. One study found that kids got 60% of their sugar from food including breads.

Another study found that the way sugar affects the brain may predispose us to binge eating if sugar is a regular part of diet.

The sugar-free children I have known are those who really know what sweet is. With a palate not overwhelmed by constant cane products in nightly desserts and every packaged snack and sauce, these children receive fresh fruit or local honey and cannot stop remarking about how sweet it tastes. They enjoy these items meditatively.

Why would I opt for a “No Sugar” stance in parenting as opposed to “limiting” sugar? Simply because nobody limits well. Once sugar is introduced and limited, the amount of sugar creeps and climbs until almost every parent I’ve known reports the children consume more sugar than was ever intended.

I’m not suggesting “perfect” or tyrannical parenting, nor do I practice it. Up until the day she turned 2, my daughter was sugar-free and then we had some intentional decisions while on vacation for her birthday without access to any healthy food – plus everyone but me had an intense desire to feed her cake and I gave in. And though I have a 98% sugar-free diet myself because I am allergic to it, now that she is two I do let her have a teeny tiny corner of a very low sugar dark chocolate if she sees me eating it (I don’t believe in ‘do as I say and not as I do’). But other than those two instances, I have a strict “We don’t eat sugar” policy in much the same way that I say “We don’t eat dairy” because she is allergic to it. I say, “We don’t eat sugar because it isn’t good for us. It could make us sick.”

What if our children get little bits of sugar throughout the week – in a “healthy” granola bar, in ketchup, in yogurt, in crackers, in an organic waffle mix, and then suddenly have no sugar one day? Withdraw? Tantrums? Lethargy? Crankiness? Trouble focusing?

Sugar has never been proven to cause hyperactivity. A couple of small studies have gotten a lot of news because they showed that sugar doesn’t cause hyperactivity, but the entire story of the study of sugar and behavior is laid out here in Yale Scientific. As it turns out, anything that quickly raises blood sugar can alter behavior and though hyperactivity is questionable, attention span has been found to decrease. I believe how sugars affect the brain probably depends on the metabolism and disposition of the child. Many children are fabulously hyper on their own without the sugar.

At my house we do replace cane products and corn syrup with maple products and honey while avoiding agave, which is more processed. I have been baking with maple sugar (Trader Joes) or wonderful coconut sugar from the coconut palm.

Below are a few links to sugar-free recipes, but I believe that the other part of parenting sugar-free is not just using replacements, but using them sparingly. Making cookies is a big deal, cake is for birthdays only. Maple “candy” won’t even be introduced until around five years.

Cookies: For these healthy cookies, I use hazelnut flour instead of almond.

Cake:- I simply take this Gluten-Free AngelFood Cake recipe and substitute coconut sugar crystals for the sugar. Add a tablespoon more sugar than the recipe calls for. A lot of protein due to so many eggs! This cake is better just berries and no frosting, but if you want frosting . . .

Frosting: My favorite frosting is very cold chèvre goat cheese beaten with equal parts butter or Earth Balance with lots of honey to taste. Add orange zest and a little bit of grated beat to make it pink naturally or golden beats for a yellow frosting.

Ice Cream: What would summer be without it? This recipe even has avocados in it! Or if you eat dairy, there are so many yummy honey ice cream recipes to look up and use with your ice cream maker.

Candy: Maple candy with walnuts, as our sweets should also have some nutritional value!

But just because there are a zillion yummy ways to use natural sugar substitutes with low glycemic indexes, that doesn’t mean any of us should eat these sweet treats every day! There are many ways that fructose is fructose. As is laid out in this popular video on sugar, we need some sugar but we all consume too much of it. And our first choice should probably be fruit – because it naturally comes with fiber. (My favorite part of this video is that toward the end this doctor laments the sugars fed to babies in formula.)

How often does your family eat sugar? Have you experimented with high-tech substitutes like xylitol, stevia, etc?

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Statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products and/or information are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their healthcare provider. If you are pregnant, are nursing, have a medical condition, or are taking any medication, please consult your physician. Nothing you read here should be relied upon to determine dietary changes, a medical diagnosis, or courses of treatment.

About The Author: Moorea

@mooreamalatt My NPN Posts

Moorea Malatt is the founder of Savvy Parenting Support (and MamaLady blog), an online resource for gentle and naturally-minded early parenting challenges. Moorea is an expert and Parent Educator in gentle (and early) potty learning, gentle sleep learning and gentle discipline. She authors online learning programs, books and blogs, leads sold-out workshops and provides private phone consults. Moorea has 20 years of experience with parents and young children as a preschool teacher, certified postpartum doula, infant nanny and mom. Moorea also wrote an album of songs called, “Whip It Out: Songs for Breastfeeding.” Moorea continues to study the behavioral sciences and anthropology. She is a bit of a flop as a dinner chef loves a good sugar-free “paleo” baking experiment! http://www.facebook.com/Savvyparentingsupport

11 Responses to Sugar-Free Parenting for a Sweet Childhood

  1. Tamara  

    Thank you! I’ve been looking for ways to cut back on sugar since my daughter has about five cavities. :(

  2. Shaina

    Thank you for this! We don’t do sugar either…partly because I believe that it’s not good for you and partly because me and my two daughters struggle with candida overgrowth. We also don’t do flouride and save the dentist for only if we need it, I was just the other day noticing how beautiful and white my girls teeth are! And I’m sure this has a lot to do with how healthy they eat and them not consuming sugar. And, like you said my girls know what good quality “sweets” are…on my husband’s last vacation I caved and let my girls get icecream from the local dairy, my 4 year old took just a few bites and then said “mommy, this is just too sweet!”
    She was way more content with my not as sweet homemade treats!

  3. Sylvia@MaMammalia

    I love this! My son was also refined sugar-free until he turned two. Then, like you said, things have slowly crept in. While we are still pretty darn close to refined sugar-free, it’s still more than I’d like (darn ketchup!). I try to look at it as a balancing act, with some well-reasoned compromise. If I don’t have time to bake everything the way I find acceptable, then an occasional store-bought graham cracker is fine.

    The wonderful thing I’ve noticed is that my son doesn’t have a strong sweet tooth and he seems to prefer sweets made with fruit as opposed to processed sugar. This is pretty much what I was hoping would happen! Since his palate is trained to recognize sweetness as coming from fruit and honey, I think it will make it easier to guide him to make healthy choices as he gets older and sees other kids eating sugar-crack.

  4. Christine @ African Babies Don't Cry  

    Yes! So glad there is another parent out there that feels as strongly about sugar as I do. Jesse is also completely sugar free and I intend to keep him that way for as long as possible :)

  5. Lara

    Hi, thank you so much for these recipes, I was struggling to keep my 2 year old on a sugar free diet and this has given me some great ideas. Is there a way to contact you directly? Many thanks

  6. Sarah

    Thank you for this! We have been artificial/refined/processed sugar free in my home since my son was born (he’s 4 now) & we constantly face pressure from family & other Mommy and Daddy friends to give in. But I’ve held strong because I want to instill good, healthy habits in my son in his formative years :) It’s so isolating because the pressure to not give in makes me seem like the very odd parent out — it’s really good to know there are other parents that feel the same so maybe we’re not so crazy :)

  7. Moorea  

    Thank you all for your comments! I love reading these. You feel less odd and isolated and now I do too! I’m going to be adding an allergen and sugar-free portion to my blog so please find me at Facebook under MamaLadyParenting or go to http://www.mamalady.wordpress.com and follow me There is a new recipe for angel food cake already up.

  8. Jen Fischer  

    We’re not strict, but I am mindful. We’ve been experimenting with alternatives, and had a lot of fun concocting these cookies the other day. Though the M&Ms in the trail mix we had been given by a friend were a definite cheat. Luckily, there were only about 4-5 left in what she gave us.

  9. Chelsea

    Thank you. This was wonderful. My DD is 10 mo old. I have worked hard to cut the sugar out of my diet to set an example for her. I want to instill healthy habits in my children so they aren’t adults wondering why mom didn’t teach them how to live the right way. It has been difficult. My DH’s family just doesn’t understand. They are constantly pushing me introduce her to things I have made a point to avoid. They think I’m crazy. I think they are crazy. It is comforting to know I am not alone. Thank you.

  10. Laura

    Thank you for your article. While I agree with you I think it gets much more difficult to manage the no sugar policy once the kids are older. I find I have a constant battle with my daughter to avoid sugar: birthday parties, camp, daycare, getting a haircut.. everyone seems to offer up some sort of sugary treat that I’m supposed to take away from her. I wonder if I won’t make her obsessed with bad sweets if I keep denying her.

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