We were asked to take part in the Change4Life ‘sugar swaps’. I was cynical – a combination of thinking we were quite healthy already and doubting a short programme would make much difference. The rest of the family were resistant, but it was a really interesting process which made some of us rethink a few habits and some of us make some changes which we have sustained.
The first two weeks we ate as normal, the second we introduced ‘sugar swaps’ and the third we monitored the difference. Recording what we ate drove me insane, it was so boring and repetitive. But it made me realise our diet was getting a bit like that too, it was time to mix it up.
I thought we were a pretty healthy lot, but seeing what we eat written down made me really aware of some bad habits that had snuck in, mainly out of convenience or habit, being busy makes it tempting to cut corners and bad habits can really creep up on you. The process really helped us make some changes for life.
Cereal wise we cleared out some more sugary ones that had crept in, the kids love blueberry wheats and porridge sweetened with honey or maple syrup. We realised we had been habitually over sweetening our porridge, we were surprised how easy it was to get back to less than half a tsp. We love eggs so have been making an extra five minutes to make boiled or scrambled eggs at breakfast instead of cereal or jam on toast. Looking at the labels on packets is quite an eye opener.
One big thing I have noticed is the kids are drinking lots less juice. After much wrangling when L was little, I gave in to juice because she just would not drink enough water whatever I did. 6 year old G’s vice was apple juice, we have now stopped buying it as he would quite happily attempt to drink a family size carton in one sitting if we left it lying around. The kids drink water all day at school now and G drinks a lot of milk – now they are older it seems much easier to cut out juice.
We had also got into the habit of ordering the kids juices in cafes, or when out and about, now we try to make water the default, for everyone, especially when they are having a cake or biscuit treat. They are really happy when we explain why – the cake is the sugary treat, you don’t need both. I think school have been reinforcing this message too, with displays of how much sugar is in drinks and homework where they have to weigh out the sugar they have consumed – the Change4Life message is widespread and familiar, so it was actually surprisingly easy to enforce.
After school I generally give healthy snacks but I was running out of ideas, but thanks to Change4Life, we have rediscovered nuts, and cheese and apple, a change from the old faithful peanut butter sandwiches. Keeping up variety keeps the kids distracted from demanding biscuits or cake. The fridge has a stash of boiled eggs too from time to time, which make a great snack.
One of my favourite things to emerge from this is that on Wednesdays L and I head to the grocers together, while G is at dodgeball, we pick out whatever fruits and veg take our fancy. It is cheap, cheerful and the choice is great. It is all too easy to fall into a trap with internet shopping and order the same things – variety is really the key here. When the kids are involved in choosing they want to eat it more too. Having really tasty, varied and unusual fruit and veg in the house keeps all of us motivated to eat our five a day They enjoy making fruit salad for pudding and even chose some frozen broad beans to put in a noodle soup when they come home from school and want something in a hurry.
We also pick up some interesting dried fruit like dried apple rings and pineapple to mix with fresh fruit for school snack time. A little more effort, but better than packaged, heavily processed dried fruit treat that seem to have taken over the playground to the extent kids didn’t want to eat real fruit. I was really proud of L for taking in a custard apple (as amazing as they sound!) instead of packaged treats.
Some of the switches I wasn’t as keen on, we avoid low fat artificially sweetened products. So we didn’t include drinks, yogurts or jellies with artificial sweeteners. Instead we just introduced clearer rules on sweets and puddings.
I have worked really hard at this, but came to realise there are differences in how Mr A and I view sugar. If I am brutally honest, he hasn’t changed anything in his own very sugary diet and he has let things sneak back in for the kids, which I had successfully got rid of, which has left me looking like the bad cop. There is another conversation for us to have there. I’m not perfect either, a while ago I had a tough time and I let more sugar than I needed into my life and the excess weight doesn’t set a great example to my kids. It is really hard to juggle the needs of the different members of the family. The boys just seem to have incredible metabolisms and to get away with eating whatever they like, when they like. Not so for me and I imagine my daughter may face the same.
Being overweight I thought I didn’t have an argument.
However, if I am honest, I realised we did the whole six weeks without ever really fully understanding WHY sugar is bad, we know extra calories mean weight gain and we tell the kids it rots their teeth. But there has to be more to it.
Sugar is bad news even if you are a healthy weight. A quick bit of googling:
‘Sugar causes fatty liver disease, gout, type 2 diabetes, memory loss and obesity.’
‘Sugar systematically destroys without symptoms until it is too late. First the liver, then the pancreas, then the kidneys, and ultimately the heart’
‘Too much sugar means extra calories, which can cause fat to build up and could lead to heart disease, some cancers and type 2 diabetes.’
That’s been the missing bit of ammunition and explanation. Onwards!
How can you make a Change4Life
Families can register for their free Sugar Swaps packs, which they will receive through the post. The packs are filled with hints, tips, recipe
suggestions and money off vouchers. You can sign up to the Change4Life via this link:
Each person who signs up for their free pack will receive a daily email and regular texts with further advice on
how to continue to reduce sugar consumption from their childrens’ diets. For more information please visit.