Today's kids may not have old-fashioned 'visions of sugar plums' dancing in their heads, but they do have plenty of contemporary holiday sweets on their minds. The food-focused holidays are a great time to clear up some confusion about the role of sweet treats in children's diets.
A recent national survey finds that many moms worry most about individual ingredients in their children's food, rather than the calories. When asked what they are concerned about when buying food for their children
* 50 percent said sugar
* 49 percent said high fructose corn syrup
* only 25 percent cited the caloric content of food
Registered dietitian Kristine Clark, Ph.D., of Penn State University, says "Many accusations today rely on speculation that tries to link single ingredients, including sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, to obesity. But really, Americans are eating more of everything - it's the excess calories and sedentary lifestyle that are having the greatest impact."
To help parents understand the issue of sweeteners better, Dr. Clark notes that the sweeteners used in many holiday treats are nearly identical. "High fructose corn syrup and table sugar both contain the same four calories per gram and are metabolized the same way in the body," she says, "And, I agree with the Food and Drug Administration's decision that high fructose corn syrup can be used in products that are labeled as 'natural'."
In 2005, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended limiting so-called "discretionary" calories to about 200 per day for adults and about 180 calories daily for children aged nine to thirteen years. Many people exceed that on a regular basis.
It's not smart to eat a diet consisting only of high-calorie foods, but occasional treats are fine. To help keep the holidays fun and healthy, Dr. Clark recommends:
Swapping dark chocolate for milk chocolate. It provides more flavor to help satisfy young and old taste buds, plus it's got antioxidants, which have a variety of health benefits, including boosting immunity.
Controlling portions with 100-calorie snack packs. Provide pre-packaged 100-calorie servings of your favorite cookies, crackers and snack mixes.
Sneaking in some protein. Protein helps moderate blood sugar from rising fast after eating. So look for treats with nuts or peanut butter. Small packages of commercially prepared trail mix are another option.
Adding fruit. Chocolate-covered or yogurt-covered raisins or other dried fruit are easy ways to boost nutritional value.
Staying active. Play some touch football after Thanksgiving dinner, go Christmas caroling, take family walks, turn up the music and dance - there are plenty of fun ways to keep the whole family moving instead staying stuck in front of a screen.
Test your sweetener savvy and find more science-based information on sweeteners at www.SweetSurprise.com.
Courtesy of Family Features