However it appears – in plain sight in the form of a Pink Unicorn, or hidden in marinara sauces or salad dressings – sugar is masquerading behind its feel-good mask.
But make no mistake, it is an addiction. Sugar is the new tobacco. We’re still fighting tobacco use and seeing a resurgence in labeling and awareness ads thanks to the introduction of vaping and the e-cigarette, but we can look to it as a model of how to handle our sugar education and intake. Is sugar addiction along the same lines as drug and alcohol abuse? Some argue no, but when this was all coming into public light in 2014, the Huff Post article quoted Dr. Lustig, the California doctor and creator of Sugar: The Bitter Truth, (2009 YouTube video with 7M views) as saying: “Every substance of abuse -– cocaine, heroin, you name it -– has required social or personal intervention,” says Lustig. “For sugar we have nothing, and my prediction is that we will need both.”
Anti-tobacco campaigns could be repurposed – just swap out sugar. In fact, when I followed a link to Starbuck’s limited time availability Unicorn Frap, up popped a Stop the Start MN anti-tobacco campaign promo video sighting the dangers of tobacco companies’ appeal to teens through social media. Enter in the #PinkUnicorn.
Can you imagine the government cracking down on retailers and baristas and mandating that a portion of their profits fund anti-sugar campaigns? What might that look like? “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that sugar is harmful in significant amounts –- not necessarily because it’s high in calories but rather because it triggers a toxic chain of reactions in the body that produce harmful fats, hormones and other metabolic by-products. Sugar is a direct cause of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other diseases, as well as obesity.”
Like any warning label, it’s one small (but significant) step in the entire picture. More education, better alternatives, consumer preferences spoken with their dollar, and social responsibility coming from a balance of government, business and consumer initiatives and actions is needed. A quick search revealed groups like the World Anti-Sugar Campaign, movements like Fed Up (2014 documentary on sugar complete with a 10-day challenge) and significant activity around this topic over the past two years.
Recently a friend of mine, Carie LaRock Allen (both of us moms of tweens and teens), invited me to join The Sweet Freedom Summit (Apr 10-17, 2017) to hear targeted talks from experts in their fields on the subject of sugar.
I tried to carve out as much time as a could to listen to these interviews. One that jumped out was a talk entitled Break Up With Sugar by Sara Vance, nutritionist and author. It resonated because she talked about it as a family affair and specifically addressed how our body develops a sugar addiction in childhood, which is intensified as kids grow into their teens. Teen boys are the highest offenders (Calvin, my 12YO, will soon fall into this category). They consume drinks full of sugar tipping their average daily sugar intake to 28.3 teaspoons (National Health and Nutrition Survey) when the daily recommended amount is 8 teaspoons. (See: Are Our Kids Eating Toxic Amounts of Sugar?)
I sat down with Calvin a few evenings ago to watch Vance’s video. He humored me, but afterward he lashed out — I’m active, What do you mean give up soda and sugary cereals? What am I supposed to eat?
Sugar intake has been a sore subject in our household for at least the past three years. It used to be that I could control it more, but with tween independence and a little spending cash, trips to Kowalski’s for soda and candy, etc I’m convinced I need to work harder and be more thoughtful in my approach with him. This kid loves sugar. I once found a bowl of cake mix, just dry cake mix with a spoon, tucked away in his room. I could site many other slightly appalling incidents, but the point is they need to make their own decisions and choose better.
I have a 14YO daughter too. Fancy coffee drinks, like the Pink Unicorn, are the enemy there. Maybe Starbucks and other barista bars could help us out with portion control and modifications to the norm? In my experience it’s hit or miss with the term “light whip,” but they mostly get my “half syrup” request correct (can we make that the norm?) Don’t even get me started on Shamrock Shakes.
I have a sweet tooth myself. I know it starts with parents as role models so I am going to take the 10 Day Challenge. This will mean giving up food and beverages like my beloved white chocolate mochas and my morning square of Ghiradelli. But not before I test out a Pink Unicorn…
I went in skeptically and came out pleasantly surprised, which is actually no surprise given my tastebuds. They went into sensory overload experiencing sweet and fruity to tangy and tart with a hint of sour in the powder. I ordered a “tall” 39 grams of sugar (or nearly 8 teaspoons, the max daily allowance) and strolled the block from Starbucks to First Avenue to see if Prince’s anniversary flowers were flooding the sidewalk. Not yet. It’s not even raining. I finished about half of my drink and give it a rest. Verdict: I am hopeful Starbucks keeps their five-day only whimsical drink just a passing fantasy. I’m already addicted.
For now, I’m doing the challenge and starting the family on alternate breakfast options. Say goodbye to breakfast out of a sugary box, especially if it comes with unicorns, leprechauns or Wonder Woman. Who’s with me? What’s working/ not working for you and your teens?
— #RIPPrince, In Minnesota, the unicorns should be purple.