Thursday, 18 September 2014
A Dad's View: Sweet treats really bad?
We tend to treat sugar as a poison, to be kept away from our tots at all costs, but Tom Dunmore asks if the odd sweet treat is really all bad
Is sugar good or bad? It's hard to decide. On the one hand, it leads to tooth decay and obesity. On the other, it's the fail-safe bribe. If you haven't yet resorted to 'you won't get any ice cream if you don't eat your cabbage', you're a better parent than me. Or you just don't feed your kids vegetables.
I suppose it's inevitable that I'd come to rely on the lure of sweet things: I grew up in the Seventies, when the British diet consisted mostly of sugar, butter and meat. Back then there was no quinoa, no cous cous or alfalfa – we were still getting to grips with broccoli. We weren't given 'pocket money', we were given 'sweet money'
– enough for (and I'm really showing my age here) twenty a'penny chews every week.
It was a time of austerity, too, but I didn't learn about budgeting in maths or home economics, I learned it by saving 5p from my dinner money every day so I had enough to buy a quarter of rhubarb and custards on Friday morning.
These days, sugar is thoroughly demonised and organic fruit snacks are all the rage instead. But while they are delicious, they are also expensive.
They're still packed with sugar. Ok, it may be unrefined, naturally occurring sugar – but it's still sugar, and it still rots your teeth. One of the pitfalls of first-time parenting is that you have to rely on second-hand information, which leads to a great deal of parenting by theory – theory dangerously assimilated from websites and elderly relatives. This is why so many of us try to keep kids and sugar apart (just as I did). We try – but we are destined to fail. Why? Because sugar is like magic when you're a child. It's the greatest thing in the world.
I remember the moment that Ava – having survived two years without encountering refined sugar – found a carelessly
abandoned box of chocolates in our living room. I walked in to find she had eaten them all: our golden-curled angel, face caked in chocolate, with eyes wide and smile wider. There was no going back. These days her imagination is, like the house in Hansel and Gretel, entirely made of sweets: 'What would you like for your birthday?' 'Um... sweeties?'. 'Shall we go shopping?' 'For sweeties?'. And when she suddenly gets serious, looks deep into my eyes and says 'Daddy, I love sweeties,' I know she means it every bit as much as when she says 'Daddy, I love you.' Possibly more.
To deny such pleasures would be cruelty, pure and simple. I'm not suggesting that we should ply our kids with sweeties or fizzy pop all the time. But a balanced diet has plenty of space for treats. After all, kids only become fat if they consume more calories than they burn - and those calories can come from anything they eat and drink, not just sugar.
The more we obsess about how much sugar our kids consume, the more likely it is that we will encourage them to have an unhealthy relationship with food: it will become something to be measured and counted rather than enjoyed.
And that's not the worst of it: if we take sugar away from our kids, then how will we bribe them to be good? It's a fate too terrible to contemplate – so please, let's keep things sweet. Just remember to brush their teeth.