21 December 2014: Sugar fences

I have a little girl – now 20 months old - and is has been a revelation to me to see how her taste and appetite for food is evolving. She has always been a pretty ‘good eater’ – and by good eater I mean that she is not particularly fussy (as in will eat almost anything) and we are fortunate that she has not displayed or developed any allergies or intolerances, that we know of. But she very clearly has foods she likes more than others and also very clearly has days where she prefers some foods over others. For instance she loves fish and often asks for it, however there are days where served fish she will mostly eat the vegetables that accompany it. On other days the fish will get devoured, along with most of what is on my plate and the same vegetables that got shoveled in with glee the day before, will sit untouched. Sometimes I am surprised by this but I realise I shouldn’t be. I know there are days where I could kill for a juicy steak. And yet other days the thought of that is off-putting. Kids are no different and this desire for certain tastes and control over what they do eat - albeit it very limited seeing as its really the parents making most of these decisions - is exerted early on. It has also been interesting to see her naturally sweet tooth – clearly something as humans we are primed for. Fruit is prized, often requested and can be eaten even when it appears she doesn’t want any more of her savory dish. And often, especially when a new sweet fruit taste is explored you can visibly see her eyes light up in wonder and delight. It is evident that this is an evolutionary drive to seek out sweet tasting foods. And when this sweet food is fruit it poses little problem for most. But this sweet desire is also one of our weakest points. Something that in this day and age, where surrounded by cheap, easily accessible and endless options for sweet treats. It is something that we have to consciously restrict and avoid. And when we do indulge those sweet indulgences also come laden with guilt and often regret and even self loathing. These complex emotions are also behind some of the reasons we seem to have lost our way in terms of being able to feed ourselves properly – ie in a way that sustains not only life but allows us to glean maximum enjoyment and pleasure from life now and into our twilight years. This very drive for sugar is something that is coming under closer scrutiny in the world of scientific research. There have even been studies done mapping our brains response to sugar and comparing this to a hit of cocaine. The addiction response looks scarily similar. Anecdotally we know of people who admit they are addicted to sugar, displaying all the emotions, actions and desperation of those addicted to other less socially acceptable ‘drugs’. The accepted ‘treatment’ for addictions is abstinence – in other words complete avoidance lifelong. And yet when it comes to sugar the more accepted doctrine is that all things in moderation are OK. And this is where things get interesting, and controversial. Counter arguments are along the lines of 'you wouldn’t give a recovering alcoholic an occasional drink and expect them to be OK’. And yet the 'everything in moderation' dogma suggests that the odd cream bun, packet of jelly beans or ice cream is OK. And it might be unless this 'occasional' spirals into an addictive habit that becomes as frequent as weekly, daily or even every meal. Which is why I really really hate that meaningless and unhelpful catch phrase that is thrown around “everything in moderation”. Without wanting to be a fence sitter though, I have to admit that I am somewhere in between. The waters of ‘occasional’ are very muddy. Is once a month occasional? Once a week? A year? Once a day? Who defines this? And surely for each and very one of us the meaning is different? I also think it matters when and how consumption occurs. I think it matters if it is with purpose – are you fuelling during a workout or race? I think it matters if it is in context – is this a special custom, tradition or occasion? After all, these types of traditional and social celebrations provide food for the soul of an entirely different and yet equally important nature than that of just the actual food itself. And I think it matters on an individual basis too - taking into consideration other health factors including mental health. My stance is that we should be limiting and avoiding sugar but at the same time I personally do not see anything wrong with celebrating a special friends birthday with a slice of delicious cake or finshing off your Christmas lunch with a slice of Christmas pudding. And doing so guilt free. The recommendations I make are to make things quality – make sweets and sugared ‘treats’ something out of the norm, not a stand-by regular and where possible make it yourself – I think cooking things yourself makes you realize not only what goes into them, allows you to control the ingredients but that you also enjoy them more too. Savor and enjoy. Life is too short to live in complete denial but it is also too short to live in an unhealthy state that is largely self inflicted by what we feed ourselves. The happy medium is in being able to truly enjoy and appreciate ‘healthy’ foods, appreciate how they make us feel. And then to also be able to appreciate occasional diversions as part of what makes us happy, social humans.