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It's all about sugar

Thoughts to ponder from Dale Chomas

With great fanfare, I celebrate the arrival of my young patients' first permanent teeth-reminding them that they have to take extra-good care of them. I happily remind my wide-eyed patients that these new teeth have to last till they are 100 years old and beyond. WOW, they say, as their minds try to do the mental math: "O.K., if I am six now, how many more years will it be till I am 100?"

And, studies have shown that these young ones truly will have a shot of reaching the age of 100-far exceeding the lifespan of their parents and grandparents. But, and it's a big but, these young patients won't make it to that celebrated age if they fall in to a trap that has caught many of their parents and grandparents alike: an unhealthy addiction to a devilish substance called sugar.

One day a while back, I was discussing international cuisine with one of my world-travelling patients. "I know what spices to expect when I eat at an Italian, Indian or Thai restaurant. Do non-Americans associate a spice with the standard foods of the good-ole-USA?" I asked.

Without batting an eye, my patient answered, "You Americans most certainly do, and you don't even consider it a spice. It's sugar; sucrose, glucose, fructose...It's everywhere. Americans have the sweetest diet on the planet!"

My patient was right on the mark. Ever since the French and English crusaders brought sugar to Europe from the Middle East, those in the Western World have had a love affair with the white stuff. In the 16th century, sugar truly was labeled a spice due to its rarity, a luxury like nutmeg. According to a recent National Geographic article by Robert Love, the average Englishman consumed 4 pounds of sugar a year in 1700. By 1870, consumption grew to 47 pounds a year. Today, the average American has a yearly diet of 77 pounds a year-22 teaspoons of added sugar every day.

Not only does sugar wreak havoc with our teeth, it has been proven to be toxic to the rest of our bodies as well. Richard Johnson, a nephrologist at the University of Colorado tells us that many of the major illnesses of the day can be traced back to sugar; tooth decay, blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity top the list.

Other new research shows that HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) is lowered and triglycerides are increased when sugar consumption is increased.

Sugars such as fructose are processed in the liver producing fats called triglycerides. Fatty livers are bad enough. But, when the excess fats are poured into the blood stream, the pancreas is triggered to produce insulin. This all leads to what is now called the metabolic syndrome: obesity around the waist, increased blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and a significant increased risk of heart attacks.

The harsh reality is that the children who now celebrate the eruption of their first molars won't live to see their 100th birthday (with or without teeth) if they are raised to have the same addictions to toxic sugar as their parents and grandparents generation.

By now, my reader is undoubtedly thinking: "You're a bit bleak there, aren't you Doc?"

Well, yes, I am...but then again, no I'm not. Forewarned is forearmed, they say.

It's tough to raise a child with a healthier diet. It takes a strong parent to push the broccoli, carrots, bananas and water over cheese curls, cookies, chocolate and root beer. But, it can be done. All children whine at times-you cut off their addictive sugary snacks and I guarantee that you will hear lots of it. Yet, any teacher or coach will tell you that there would be no football or soccer teams, no pianists or violinists; we wouldn't even have any automobile drivers if students were not coached to overcome their fussing behaviors.

Parenting isn't for sissies. How true. Yet, through all the trials of parenting, know that you aren't alone. For starters, google the following article: ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/08/sugar/cohen-text. I suspect that you will find reading it as eyebrow-raising as it was for me.

Step number 2: Take more time to read packaging labels. Sugars are all the "oses" you find on the label (sucrose, fructose, glucose) and are measured in grams. FIVE GRAMS EQUALS ONE TEASPOON. I guarantee that you will be shocked at the sugar content of most processed foods. We can't begin to curtail the amount of sugar we are feeding our children if we don't have an understanding about where the sugars are coming from.

Finally, the next time you visit the dentist's or physician's office, don't hesitate to ask questions. Speaking for my team in particular, we would be more than happy to help you and your family as you journey toward a healthier life. Good luck!

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