At Issue: Should Sugar Be Banned In Schools?

sprinkles-339270_640The war on sugar is full force. It seems impossible to turn on the news, stroll the supermarket or host a playdate without the topic of sugar rearing its head. In particular: kids’ consumption of sugar.

Recently a neighbourhood school has made a push to greatly reduce the amount of sugar permitted. Let’s face it, any time someone talks about banning, prohibiting, eliminating . . .people get feisty.

Efforts to reduce sugar in schools has been around for years, and in the case of a Georgia school, more than a decade. Proponents cite better overall health, fewer behavioural problems, and increased concentration to name just a few of the benefits. Principal of sugar-free pioneer school Browns Mill Elementary School said that within 6 months standardized test scores increased and behavioural incidents decreased. In time, students came to learn how to make good food choices and now broccoli is a favourite in the cafeteria. Advocates know that this is a huge undertaking – but they are playing the long game; quick to point out those efforts to reduce tobacco use in younger people has been successful over decades.

Nonetheless there are several opponents of the idea to limit sugar in schools, including researchers who report findings that suggest banning sugar in schools has little long term effect on a child’s overall sugar consumption and that changing attitudes in the home have a more lasting impact. In fact, Dr. John Sievenpiper says that negative messages like “don’t eat fat”, “don’t eat salt”, and “don’t eat sugar” may be doing more negative than good. He goes as far to blame the “don’t eat fat” message that was sweeping the nation in the 80s and 90s as one of the reasons for the current obesity epidemic. MaryAnn Tomovich, MS., RD agrees and believes that banning any specific food group creates a culture of fear and does nothing to ultimately educate our children. She, along with Dr. Michael Alderman, is a fan of the U diet: the basis being healthy, nutritious foods but allowing for some indulgences.

I am no health expert and my statistics grades will attest that a profession as a researcher is not in my future, but I do know parents. And I know how to quickly polarize a group of them.

So what do you think? Should schools ban all sugar? Are vending machines ok to get the heave-ho but school birthday cakes allowed? If a teacher gives out lollipops after a test or uses candies in a counting lesson, should they be reprimanded? Classroom parties: yay or nay in the presence of anything other than pretzels and veggie platters? What about fundraising? Fun Fairs? Bake sales? Is water the only acceptable beverage in the lunch bag?

Where is the line drawn and furthermore, who decides?

This week 4Mothers offers up our opinions and on Friday we’re joined by the dynamic duo Leigh and Meg of the blog Me and Meg.

As always we want to know that you think. What’s going on at your child’s school? Are you in favour of an all-out ban, gentle moderation or leaving it up to a parents to decide what is and isn’t too much sugar?

Join the conversation by leaving a comment on the blog, Facebook or Instagram.

For more reading:

(2014) Why Our Low-Fat, No-Sodium, Ban-Sugar Society May Be Making Us Fat

(2011) Banning Sugared Drinks in Schools Doesn’t Lower Student Consumption

(2011) Why Banning Foods In Schools Sends Kids the Wrong Message

(2008) 10 years later, school still sugar free and proud

The Ultimate Children’s Health Reference Book

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Since the advent of Google, I have determined that I have a brain tumor, melanoma, viral pneumonia, seasonal affective disorder, and fifth’s disease.  Don’t even get me started on what ailments I have projected onto my kids.  Admit it, we are all guilty of self-diagnosing.  We think that we’re doctors never mind the years of schooling and practical experience under the tutelage of a mentor that we lack.  With the exception of the fifth’s disease I have been, shockingly, wrong with my doctoring (the jury is still out on the SAD).

Step away from the keyboard and pick up, The A to Z of Children’s Health: A parent’s guide from birth to 10 years.  It is without a doubt the best resource a parent can have at their fingertips. It’s a comprehensive guide written by Dr. Jeremy Friedman and Dr. Natasha Saunders of the world-renowned Hospital For Sick Children.

More than 235 childhood conditions and illnesses are arranged alphabetically and described clearly and concisely with full colour illustrations. The advice offered is practical and current, nothing superfluous or condescending.

In the past two months I have used The A to Z of Children’s Health more than any other parenting resource.  That’s either a rousing endorsement of its usefulness or a dismal reflection on the health and well-being of my family.

How to treat an ingrown toenail?  Is this a cough that I should be worried about?  What is the difference between primary enuresis (bed-wetting) and secondary enuresis?

All of these questions are answered.

Do you remember when you were new to this parenting thing, and you were more invested in your baby’s poo than you’d ever imagined was possible?  Well, they answer all of those questions too and pictures of the various types of diaper rashes accompany at-home treatments and explanations.

It’s rare that I come across a reference book I feel is worth spending money on but The A to Z of Children’s Health is the exception.  So much do I like it, I plan on adding it to my go-to list of gifts for first time parents.

A Gluten-Free Confession

Photograph of 4 gluten sources. Top: High-glut...

Photograph of 4 gluten sources. Top: High-gluten wheat flour. Right: European spelt. Bottom: Barley. Left: Rolled rye flakes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shortly after I stopped eating gluten a few years ago, a friend of mine confronted me about it: “Are you just suddenly celiac or did your homeopath tell you to stop eating gluten?”

“Neither. I just feel better without it”.

“Oh. Whatever”, he said, with a dismissive wave.

That dismissive “whatever” cut close to the bone. I stopped eating gluten just as the current gluten free craze was starting to gain traction. I recall feeling a bit embarrassed at first when I told people that I no longer ate gluten. I felt like a bit of a poseur, jumping on the latest health craze based on something I found on the internet.

Now, it feels like the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, fad diet trend or no.

About three years ago, I started having terrible stomach and gastrointestinal pain. After the usual battery of tests, I was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and prescribed daily medication. Occasionally, I’d find myself in terrible pain, all of my joints feeling like they were on fire. My doctor could find no reason for this. Most significantly, I’d also been having migraines with aura, sometimes two or three a week, for years. My neurologist told me to be happy with a 50% reduction in headaches while on medication, as that was the best that anyone could hope to achieve. I was trying my best to take care of myself; eating regularly and trying to exercise, but by this point, a fifteen minute slow run triggered a migraine. I was terribly unhappy, worried about work, and conscious of the effect that my having to crawl into bed constantly was having on my family.

Running out of options (and patience), and on a hunch, I started keeping a food diary. After a couple of weeks, an interesting pattern emerged: my migraines, which often came in the morning, were usually preceded by a dinner of pasta the night before. The migraines that hit during my Sunday morning run looked like they were the result of carbo loading on Saturday night. I started researching the connection between migraine and gluten, and found this article, which suggested that the connection, pardon my pun, was not all in my head.

So, just to see what would happen, I cut gluten out of my diet. Just for a week, I though. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

A week later, I felt like a new person. I can count on both hands the number of migraines I’ve had since that week. I don’t recall the last time my joints hurt. My stomach no longer cramps and my throat no longer feels like it’s burning.

Most importantly, I feel healthy, and I don’t crawl into bed unless I want to.

I am the first person to acknowledge that my general level of health may have improved for reasons unrelated to the removal of gluten from my diet, correlation not being equal to causation, and all of that. It could be because of a shift in hormone levels (I’m not getting any younger, after all) or because of a reduction in my general level of stress since that time (ha!). I eat better, of course, and eating better is bound to make one feel better. Maybe there’s an element of the psychosomatic at play: I’ve felt so incredibly awful after the few times that I’ve eaten gluten (my last slip up was half a McDonald’s chicken nugget a year ago, and let me tell you how much I regret that for so many reasons) that I always swear to myself I’ll never ever eat gluten again.

Then again, when I have had days when my joints flare up or my head pounds, I can almost always pin-point the source of the gluten I inadvertently ingested, after the fact.

So now, I live gluten-free. As a caveat, my experience is mine alone, and not to be taken as an endorsement for a gluten-free lifestyle. I strongly suggest consulting with a health care practitioner before someone cuts gluten from their diet — or in other words, do as I say, not as I do. A genuine diagnosis of celiac disease can be missed if someone cuts gluten out of their diet prior to testing, with potentially life-threatening consequences, and any unexplained changes in your health should always be thoroughly investigated. I certainly wouldn’t endorse it as a weight loss regimen, despite those claims that cutting out wheat will lead to a flat stomach, although I can’t say I miss the fifteen pounds that I lost almost immediately. It takes work to ensure that everything I eat is gluten free, and more importantly, that I’m not just filing myself up with gluten-free bread substitutes with minimal nutritional value. Yes, I miss baguettes and and croissants and good pizza with a thin crust; ales, porters in the winter, wiessbiers with oranges slices in the summer; and more than anything, going out to a restaurant without fear. But for all of that, it’s been worth it, because the pain? I don’t miss that at all.

Beyond the Detox: the Bigger Picture of Diet

vegetable-755723__180There’s a difference between diet (the food that one eats) and dieting (restricted intake of food).  I haven’t tried the latter since I was 16 years old (lasting about 2 weeks), and I don’t pay much attention to other societal dictates around female beauty (fashion, cosmetics, hair, pedicures, the spa). But I am very interested in diet in terms of what I’m consuming, and how it affects me and my environment.  I am not at all casual about food.

So it bothers me when I do not follow my better intentions around eating.  I eat quite healthfully, but often to the point of being stuffed, and I’ve often wondered if I’m just plain addicted to sugar.   I sometimes don’t even enjoy or really taste the big bowl of chocolate almonds or ice cream that I’ve been reaching for on a regular basis:  I’m just downing them.  I know why I do it:  misplaced gratification, pacification, fatigue.  And habit, especially habit.  I’ve been on a bit of a downward spiral that’s been hard to stop.

I decided to do something about it.  Take ownership, if you will.  There are many roads to Rome, but for me, a general desire to eat sensibly most of the time, and consciously enjoy occasional treats, just wasn’t taking hold.  I needed a jumpstart, more structure, something with a little flair.  I needed a tool. So I’m doing (currently on!) my very first detox.

I’m in the first week (of four), and have been eliminating alcohol, caffeine, gluten, dairy and sugar.  I was most worried about giving up my sugar, but actually it’s the gluten I’m missing the most – I really love a good bread and it’s wonderful filling feeling.  But when I feel limited, I think about what I can eat:  rice, corn, potatoes, eggs, seafood, meat (although I don’t), nuts, legumes, quinoa, soy, all fruits and vegetables (and I am eating plenty of all of this – no calorie reduction here), and at this point the concept of deprivation becomes a bit absurd.  (I just read The Little House Cookbook after Nathalie recently mentioned it on our blog, and the book is an eye-opener on what a restricted diet actually means.)

In addition to creating a sharp break in the habit of crappy eating, I wanted to see if the detox could reveal anything about how my body responds to certain foods, so I really like the idea of eliminating certain foods for a short period (2-3 weeks) and re-introducing them one by one.

I am in good health overall, but I no longer have the bravado of my 20s (when I was really quite fit and eating well) nor the nonchalance of my 30s (when I was riding the coattails of my 20s).  Why is it that my knees hurt as much as they do?  Is mental alertness a thing of the past?  More basically:  why don’t I feel that good most of the time?

I actually suspect that sleep and lack of exercise have more to do with the way I feel than the five foods I’m eliminating for three weeks.  In a nasty flashback to baby/toddler days, my 7 year old woke up every hour or so last night for no better reason than a common cold.  But this I don’t have much control over, unlike the foods I put in my mouth, many of which haven’t been helping matters.

I used to feel really good.  I remember the vitality of that.  I’m not a believer in turning back time, but I want some of that energy again and know with some work that I can have it.  I also really, really want to avoid finding myself in a medical office of the future, beseeching some doctor to take care of my body when I haven’t done so myself.

Focusing energy into one’s diet and well-being can be a liberating thing.  Liberating from old habits, a slump, and if you really do have an intolerance, from a lifetime of discomfort or worse.  I see the detox as an invitation to help me live closer to my intentions – there’s a bigger picture to the smoothies.  I’m not talking about manipulating myself toward some skinny idyll in the media (which I hardly tune into).  I’m talking about feeling great in my own body.  Diet is a necessary part of this goal, and I’m in.

Go Away, Germ

If only my germ was this cute.

I have a house guest. I call him Germ.

I’m not sure who invited him. I’m not even sure “he” is a “him”. A “what” or an “it”, maybe.  So I call him Germ. The name Germ, while curt, is at the very least neutral.  I suppose I could ask Germ what he/she/it prefers to be called, but I don’t wish to get any closer than we already are.  I’ll be civil, but I refuse to be gracious.

Germ’s not a very good house guest. Someone wiser than me once quipped that house guests, like fish, start to smell after three days.  I wish Germ would take the hint. He just lies around, getting up my nose, giving me headaches, and just generally being a pain in my side. You’d think that, after being around for so long Germ would try to be useful, but he has yet to figure out how to work the washing machine.

It’s not like I haven’t tried to shift Germ out the door.  Oh no. Germ’s a stubborn little bugger. I’m sure he didn’t much like the dose of medicine I gave him this morning after I woke up feeling as if Germ had parked a truck on my chest.  Instead of high-tailing it, he’s been quietly lurking in my pleural spaces. Last night I felt him spelunking in my sinuses. Tomorrow, I’m guessing, he’ll be back to looking for a parking spot. I hope the car’s smaller this time.

And you know, he’s not even a faithful guest. I think Germ’s been crashing on couches all over this city. I know for a fact that Germ has been dallying with my boss.  If I wasn’t so tired I’d be really annoyed at how callous and ill-mannered Germ can be.  If I consider how many people I know who have had a run-in with Germ over the last month — my husband, my mother, my father, my sister, her kids  — well, it’s kind of creepy when you think of it.   I keep wondering how I can exploit Germ’s weakness– this possessiveness — but my head hurts too much right now to try. At least Germ’s been nice to my kids. Well, Germ’s actually ignored my kids,  but like Beetlejuice, I’m afraid that if I say that out loud…oh, you know…

So Germ, if you’re out there (and I know you are): It’s time. Move on. You’ve had your fun. But I’m done. Go pick on someone your own size for a while, okay?

Guest Post: Patsy Spanos on Zoning in on Happiness

Sitting on the beaches of Greece with my family this summer, I rarely had to make a conscious effort to reach calm, diaphragmatic breathing – the kind of breathing you reach at the end of a yoga class. Yes, yes, an easy task to achieve when you are smelling the calamari on the grill, feeling the white warm sand pressing against the heels of your feet and watching the Agean sea glitter under the sun.

Looking for your pulse is usually the goal when you are in this setting…Oh wait! Here we go, I just found my heart beat– easy to do when you see your eight year old boy tackling one of your five year old twin boys and screaming out at the top of his lungs….”I’m going to fart on your face!”

Tune them out, tune them out. Now, where was I? Oh yes… drinking sweet nectar amongst the Greek gods, feeling the state of complete Utopia. George Clooney comes out of nowhere and asks, “Do you want me to put some sun screen on your back?” I know! I know! What does Clooney have to do with Greece? But this is my day dream in my day dream it’s Clooney smothering the coconut oil on my shoulder blades…Okay!

In the faint distance I hear my husband’s voice overshadow Clooney’s…”Honey!, Honey! Where is my beach towel? I can’t find my beach towel anywhere? Did you pack it?”

Travelling with four boys this summer (my husband included) had its hairy moments, but overall I have come back home to Stouffville, Ontario calmer, and most importantly, healthier than ever. Being in Greece all summer, I dove into the Mediterranean diet and life stlye.

image: wikipedia.org

When I say life style, I mean the carefree attitude the Mediterraneans live by. There is a Greek Island called Ikaria.  This island is a “Blue Zone” spot: a part of the world where people live the longest. Time is relative on this Greek island. People show up to events and occasions whenever they feel like it. Living in this manner means you never increase your heart -harming stress hormones. You know those hormones all too well…The ones that take over your body and send you into a frantic state because you and your child are running ten minutes late for a play date.

Now I’m not by no means suggesting you commit social suicide and take off your watch and show up late to every meeting and get fired, but I am implying that as mothers we should all be a little more kind to ourselves if we are running a bit late.

Following a Mediterranean diet for two months has made me feel like an Olympian athlete ready for the games. Getting my three boys ready for school in the mornings is pretty much equal playing ground. By Mediterranean diet, I don’t mean eating on the Danforth and treating yourself to a big plate of souvlaki with Greek salad and tzatziki…No! No! Meat is a once  a week treat…you must focus on whole grains, fish, beans, veggies, olive oil, and plenty of healthy greens.

Greeks consume daily these wild greens that grow in fields and sides of the road. They are incredibly tasty and are full of nutrients and have more antioxidants than green tea or wine. The more popular healthy green is “Vlita” (otherwise known as amaranth), and it can be found in specialized fruit and vegetable markets here in Canada. Vlita is simple to make. Thoroughly clean them, boil until they are soft, pour some olive oil and lemon juice over them, sprinkle some salt and opa! Ready to serve.

Eating and living healthy is the best daily spa a mother can give to herself.

Whether you live in the city of Toronto, a small town in Ontario or the Greek island of Ikaria, living healthy and making smart choices when eating is the key ingredient to living a long and happy life.

Start by making a simple fish dish for the family.

Baked Salmon with Lemon and Thyme

4 servings

ingredients

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
6 ounces of boneless salmon fillets
two tablespoons of chopped fresh thyme
two cloves of garlic, crushed
juice of two lemons
salt and pepper
4 lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 350F. Place aluminum foil on baking sheet and brush it over with a tablespoon of oil. Place salmon fillets skin down. In a small bowl put a tablespoon of oil, garlic, lemon juice, and two tablespoons of thyme and mix. Spread the mixture equally over the salmon fillets. Sprinkle some salt and pepper. Marinade for 10 minutes. Then bake salmon for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the fish looks visibly cooked and flakes easily with a fork. Place the lemon wedges on top of the fillets and they’re ready to serve.

On this night…

 



six years ago, I lay in a narrow bed in a room with three other pregnant women. I was 37 weeks pregnant, and being induced. My son had been diagnosed as intra-uterine growth restricted in my 22nd week. I’d been on bedrest for four weeks for signs of pre-term labour and to conserve my energy. As we understood, the placenta, that vital organ connecting him to me, was no longer working as it should. It was old before its time. Blood was no longer flowing freely between it and him, and it was time for him to arrive. To complicate matters, the hospital’s neonatal intensive care ward has been closed to new patients because of a Norwalk virus outbreak. If he is born too small, or if he requires intensive care, we have no idea where he will be sent. Out of town, certainly; out of country, quite possibly.

We try not to think about that, he and I. His father and I send him entreaties of love and plumpness. Mere ounces matter, now.

He was so quiet, curled inside me. So much quieter than his brother, the nocturnal acrobat. I gave my belly an occasional nudge. Occasionally, I got a nudge back: gentle, noncommittal. From the bed across from me, a colossal snore. From beside me, the hushed voices of a woman on the phone. I remember her, remember that her water had broken around her 26th week. Somehow, impossibly, she kept leaking fluid, but stayed pregnant, 27, 28, 29 weeks and onward.

The night trickles by. In a room with three other women, someone is always there — nurses checking blood pressure, fetal tones. One woman wears flip-flops; her cadence is distinctive: flipFLIPflop…flipFLIPflop. She is pregnant with twins and too weary to lift her feet so late at night. Be quiet, all of you. I want to scold. I have important work to do tomorrow. But arguing seems to require all the energy I’m trying to horde. I stay silent.

Morning arrives with the news we’ve dreaded. The NICU is still not open. My contractions are ramping up. He’ll be arriving today. My husband and I walk endless loops of the halls, down one side, out the other, until I proclaim that there is nothing I need more than to just lie down. Now. I ask for drugs; the uncertainty of the situation takes away my confidence. But the one bolus gives me all I need, and I settle into the rhythm of the contractions, feeling him slide down, descend. I hear the doctor ask me to reach down and touch my baby, find his head, but I’m concentrating on moving him out of me and my hands miss the mark, to much laughter. It is only then I realize that I’ve been joined by a cast of thousands: doctors, neonatologists, nurses. I welcome them to the party.

And then..another push, and he is born. He is yelling already. The doctor lays him on my chest momentarily, and I commit him to memory. He has his great-grandfather’s feet and my hands. And then, to be assessed and weighed. Possibly to be whisked away, but he is weighed again: someone had read the scale incorrectly. Someone has converted grams to ounces incorrectly, and my boy gains in stature at the stroke of a pen. Ounces matter.

Happy birthday, Sebastian, our little big guy.