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June 2012
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Children’s Health:
Sugar Wars

Sometimes when facing large and challenging
problems, such as the future of our children, we miss the obvious. We know that our children are overweight and, in fact, one in three kids are obese, which is triple the national rate in 1963. We hear that if our kids are obese, the odds of their developing adult-onset diabetes increases dramatically. Those are facts, and we need to think about nutrition as our starting point.

Many people exercise in order to lose weight. Exercise is incredibly important for mind and body, but is not the cure for obesity. One hour of brisk walking burns 130 calories. Jogging for 30 minutes at 10 miles an hour burns 170 calories. Let’s look at a few kinds of food. A slice of pizza with pepperoni = 181 calories. One hamburger with 1/4 pound of meat on a bun = 459 calories. Eight ounces of Coca Cola Classic = 97 calories. 3.5 ounces of salmon = 136 calories. One cup of steamed mixed vegetables = 60 calories. We need healthy food and exercise, but we cannot expect to eradicate obesity only by focusing on exercise. After all, one slice of pepperoni pizza (181 calories) offsets 30 minutes of moderate intensity jogging (170 calories). With that said, exercise is important, but when we focus on exercise only in terms of losing weight, we lose interest in exercise.

The Coke & Pepsi Generation

Poor nutrition may be the biggest problem for our children. For decades Pepsi and other non-nutritious “food” companies paid millions of dollars a year for the privilege of having their vending machines in schools across the country. Over the last decade a number of cities have begun to fight the fast-food industry with Los Angeles and Oakland banning soda pop in school. Texas was the first state to ban carbonated drinks in schools. Still, we can’t ignore the fact that kids will find a way to buy Coca Cola and Pepsi. The average teenage boy consumes two 12-ounce cans of soda pop every day, which results in a sugar intake of 15 teaspoons every day. That’s 68 gallons of soda pop per year.

Soft drinks have no nutrition, and are loaded with sugar, caffeine, phosphorus/phosphoric acid and aspartame (for diet drinks). Phosphoric acid lowers our body’s calcium levels, resulting in bones losing calcium. Over time, osteoporosis can develop. Adolescents who consume soft drinks are 3–4 times more likely to develop bone fractures than teens who don’t consume soft drinks. Heavy consumption of soft drinks is associated with obesity. It also interferes with iron metabolism and with normal electrical activity of nerve cells. The phosphoric acid in soft drinks upsets our acid-alkaline balance, and eats away at the stomach lining.

Sugar Wars

Despite research as early as the 1970s about the risks of sugar, the FDA has maintained a “healthy” relationship with the sugar high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) industry. The FDA’s position is that, “There is no data that indicates that sugar may be harmful.”

Between 1995 and 2010, our government provided $16.9 billion to subsidize four common food additives, namely: corn syrup, HFSC, cornstarch, and soy oils (hydrogenated vegetable oil). Those billions of dollars go to 10% of farmers as a “safety net.” The only significant federal subsidy of fresh fruits and vegetables is apples. Since 1995, the US government spent $262 million subsidizing apple farmers. And the high fructose corn syrup industry wants to rename HFSC “corn sugar” — just to fool us for a bit longer.

Sugar shows up in products marketed as health foods. In 2000, Coca Cola released Vitaminwater, clearly marketed as something good for us. It turns out that every bottle contains 32 grams of liquid sugar. Coca Cola has been sued because of Vitaminwater, but the company states, “No reasonable person could possibly conclude Vitaminwater is a healthy beverage.” That comment is in stark contrast to early marketing and the obvious implication of health benefits implied by its name.

We need to understand that there is good sugar and bad. The good ones, complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes), are converted into blood glucose once absorbed and digested. Glucose is the fuel that our cells require. Refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup are the bad sugars. Two teaspoons of sugar can suppress the body’s immune response, and can cause a fifty-percent drop in the ability of white blood cells to kill bacteria. This immune suppression increases the chances of getting sick.

There is general agreement among research scientists that some children and adults have a heightened sensitivity to sugar. That sensitivity can alter behavior, concentration, attention span, and ability to learn. For many parents the proof is in the direct observations of how sugar affects their children.

Long-term, sugar abuse can lead to obesity, adult onset diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease. In addition, there is a growing awareness of a sugar-cancer connection. Sugar causes the release of the hormone insulin. An elevated insulin level is a known risk factor for cancer.

The quality of the food our children eat may be the most important issue in how they behave, how they feel, how they concentrate and learn in school, how healthy and energetic they are, how strong their immune system is, how strong their bones are, and every other aspect of human physiology.

The Power of a Protein Smoothie

One obstacle the nation faces in providing one good meal a day to all children is poverty. The poverty rate in America is 15.1% (46.2 million people). The poor are financially less able to buy healthy food, and that fact shows up in higher rates of obesity. We need to radically drop the intake of sugar and junk food that our children consume, and we need to provide at least one nutritious meal to every child every day. A protein smoothie may be the easiest and least expensive way to provide that nutritional foundation.

Before this idea makes it into every school’s lunch plan, you can make this for your kids as their breakfast. Toss a handful of ice cubes into the blender. Blend! Next add 4 ounces of milk, rice milk, or almond milk, etc.). Add half a banana, pineapple, or whatever fruit your child likes. Add a tablespoon of flaxseed oil and one ounce of colloidal minerals. Finally add a scoop of whey, egg white, or rice protein powder. These are the easiest protein powders to assimilate. One scoop provides between 15 - 25 grams of protein. Blend! Look for protein powders that are either 100% protein or that have vitamins added but no junk food or fillers. It takes a maximum of 5 minutes to prepare and it’s a guarantee that your children will start the day with great nutrition. And these smoothies taste great.

Several years ago, I was working with a 16-year old high school student (I’ll call him Nathan) for stress and anxiety. One day he came into the office with some exciting news to share. His big brother suggested that he try a protein drink that had a lot of vitamins and minerals. The day he had that first protein smoothie for breakfast, his memory, concentration, and overall cognitive functioning made a permanent quantum leap. I was not surprised that the smoothie could have such a profound effect. What surprised me was the fact that this teen came from a health-conscious family in which meals were well planned. Perhaps Nathan had a problem with digestion that I was not aware of. Or perhaps he had a greater protein need than average. Perhaps it was his switch to a vegan-vegetarian diet. The protein smoothie changed his mind and body. The smoothie is a balance of the macronutrients we require, namely protein, healthy carbohydrates, and essential fatty acids. Protein, which is made up entirely of amino acids, builds all of our brain’s neurotransmitters (except for one), all muscle, all hormones, and all body tissues and organs.

We treat a host of childhood problems with medications. After all, many of the symptoms of protein deficiency and loads of sugar are the same symptoms of ADD (attention deficit disorder). Start with your children. Then you may want to try this yourself. As part of the rebuilding of America, I’d like to see 100% of our children having one great meal a day. I’d like to see this smoothie as the lunch meal at schools. To reach that dream, we’ll have to radically reduce sugar, soda pop, and junk food, and we’ll be fighting big money and entrenched bureaucracies. A solution like this will change the mental and physical health of our children. They will be happier, calmer, better able to focus, physically stronger, and less prone to obesity and diabetes.

David Gersten, M.D. practices Nutritional Medicine and Integrative Psychiatry out of his Encinitas office and can be reached at 760-633-3063. Please feel free to access information about holistic health, amino acids, and nutritional therapy at and mind-body techniques at