Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sugar, Sugar

The teen years should be sweet, right?

Well, maybe not. 

At least not as sweet as they seem to be right now. My teenage daughter has one hell of a sweet tooth. And, she's not alone.

According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, American teenagers consume 28 teaspoons of added sugar daily. The recommended maximum is 5 to 8. To put this in perspective, they're ingesting 500 extra calories just from added sugar, or the equivalent of three full-sized cans of Coke.

Remember, it takes just 3,500 unused calories to produce a pound of fat.

Thank heaven for teenage metabolisms. 

Or maybe not, because if the damage caused by sugar was easier to see, teens might be more aware and more careful. As it is, most of the effects of all that sugar are invisible. Waistlines aside, teens who consume high amounts of added sugar have higher levels of “bad” cholesterol and lower levels of “good” cholesterol. Long-term risks of all this teenage sugar consumption are heart attacks and strokes earlier in life.

This information is covered in most high school health ed classes and reenforced by parents and pediatricians. But teens do with it what they do best. They ignore it.

And, it's not really their fault.

Sugar is everywhere. Added to even foods you wouldn't think need it, like pasta sauce, soups and salsa. Not that young people make the wisest choices left to their own devices. Between sodas and sports drinks, cookies and candy, and all manner of snack food, teens can't seem to get enough of the sweet stuff.

This is an interesting paradox when you consider how many teens — teen girls, specifically — diet to the point of obsession and eating disorders. So while a good number of our teenagers are starving themselves (in some cases, to death), another great percentage are gorging themselves on sugar. Neither group is healthy.
I've tried to put better options in front of my daughter since she was a toddler. She's always had a piece of fruit at the start of each meal and plenty of vegetables. The trouble is, I'm not the one making the choices these days. And between final exam stress, the need for convenience and a sweet tooth so big it would easily fit in the mouth of Jurassic World's Indominus Rex ... well ... avoiding sugar is impossibly impossible.

After all, who can resist Ben & Jerry's "Half-Baked?" Or chocolate chip cookie dough Zone Bars? Or chocolate chip cookie dough straight out of the tub? (Do we see a pattern here?)

Whenever I question her more candy-coated choices, my daughter gets mad because she thinks I'm commenting on her weight. She couldn't be more wrong. Like most educated, liberal-minded women of my generation, I swore I would never body shame my daughter. And, in fact, she's still trim and strong (25 hours a week riding a horse, carrying water buckets and shovelling ... um ... "manure" will do that for a person). What I worry about is nutrition, or rather the lack thereof.

And to be fair, I worry that she's forming habits that won't bode well for her when she's no longer an active teen. Truly, if I ate what and when and how much she does, I wouldn't fit into even my mom jeans, much less the skinny distressed denim my daughter prefers.

Not that I would choose chocolate chip cookie dough.

My own Jurassic sweet tooth goes in a different direction.

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