Dear Journal, How Much Sugar Is Too Much?

Last Tuesday wasn’t only Broccoli Day for the Chesnut Changers; it was also the club’s after-school meeting day. Keeping up the momentum of promoting healthy eating, our topic was sugar consumption. Chesnut Changer Parent Rebecca Hernandez kicked off the meeting with a brief review of  healthy versus unhealthy sources of sugar, and the effects of eating too much sugar. Ms. Hernandez was impressed as hands shot up and the students readily answered questions about what sugar can do to the body, and where you can get the sugar your body needs (whole vegetables, grains and fruits). Ms. Hernandez reminded the students that to be good stewards of our community and environment, we need to be in good health ourselves. Then it was time to get to work!

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Using the American Heart Association’s (AHA) 2009 recommendations, we established a goal of maximum 12 grams (3 teaspoons) of added sugar per day (does not include sugar from whole foods). After building 12g structures from 2g sugar cubes, the Chesnut Changers looked up the sugar content of some of their favorite foods and drinks. Older students were paired with younger students to help them examine their boxes of cereal, mac-n-cheese, yogurt and crackers, and build a comparative sugar cube structure. That’s when the fun began.

Chesnut Changer Teacher Ginna Hobgood asked the students to guess how much added sugar she had discovered was in one cup of frosted flakes someone had brought in. No one guessed 16g and the kids were shocked after Ms. Hobgood announced the answer. Thus began the game of “Guess How Much Sugar, ” Chesnut Changer Joseph McCloskey taking a turn to demonstrate how sweet raisins are. Ms. Hernandez pointed out that while grapes are one of the sweetest fruits (and dried raisins concentrate their sweetness), their sugar content doesn’t count towards the 12g because it is naturally occurring in a whole fruit. As the children compared their sugar structures, we discussed the fact that this is only how much sugar we are having for breakfast, lunch or snacks, never mind dessert!

Soon boxes were being turned inside out and cut up to create covers for the kids’ new sugar journals. Chesnut Changer Sofia Renals demonstrated how to make the journal using scrap paper and ribbon, and gave examples of how sugar intake could be reported in words or pictures. The students were challenged with keeping track of their sugar intake for at least 3 days over the holidays. Admittedly during a very sweet time of year, this exercise should provide some interesting results, which we’ll share at the start of our next meeting in January.

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