Did you know that the natural sweet tooth most kids have is a natural adaptation humans formed thousands of years ago? That’s because sweet foods found in nature are more likely to be safe for human consumption than, say, bitter foods. Think of a sweet ripe raspberry in comparison to a bitter, poisonous holly berry.
So it’s no wonder kids gravitate towards sweet things. Adults love them too, of course. Around 90% of American households partake in sweet frozen treats like ice cream, and you can bet it’s not the child buying that ice cream for the household.
Why Are Parents So Afraid of Sugary Sweets Today?
Why not indulge in sweets? They make us happy. And believe it or not, kids process sugar and sweets way more efficiently than most adults. This might be why we don’t see much diabetes development right away in small kids. Of course, in our health-conscious age, many parents are extremely careful of the foods they give their children. Of course, the biggest dangers of childhood have little to do with food. For the first five or so years of the average American child’s life, the most common reasons they could pass away in an untimely manner are from accidents like drowning, congenital anomalies, or cancers. By the time American children are around age 15, diabetes and heart disease are already creeping their way up the list of leading causes of death.
The oft-offered solution? Avoid sugars altogether. Many modern parents are choosing to cut most if not all kinds of sugars out of their children’s diets. But why? Isn’t there a safe way to eat sweets? We learn the safest ways to prepare and eat all kinds of foods as we grow. Cuts of red meat need to reach 145 degrees Fahrenheit internally to be safe to eat, yogurt helps our digestive systems, salt helps bodily processes run. We learn all kinds of food tidbits to help us grow and make good choices, and we can learn as children to eat all these things in moderation. Why not learn about sweets?
Learning To Love Chocolate (for all the right reasons)
Let’s talk about chocolate in particular. The almighty chocolate bar is arguably the epitome of American childhood sweets. Chocolate is having a shining moment in 2018 as several health studies have come out recently in its favor. In one instance, a study of more than 55,000 Danish participants found that there was a markedly lower instance of atrial fibrillation in those who favored chocolate.
Instead of avoiding sweets altogether, parents can limit the types and quantities of sweets they present to their child until they’re older. For example, avoiding toffees and caramels will have your pediatric dentist in tears of joy. After all, dental cavities in young children are very common, five times more common than asthma and twenty times more common than diabetes. We can at least teach kids and adults to suck on these gooey, sticky sweets instead of chewing them and getting the sugary bits stuck in their teeth.
Training children’s taste buds to enjoy more bitter flavors like dark chocolate means that you can introduce sweet treats into your children’s diet that are not only less harmful than some commercial sweets, but even beneficial. Dark chocolate has less sugar and is richer in healthy cocoa, but many people don’t develop a taste for it until they’re adults, if ever. We already know that dark chocolate has plenty of positive effects on the bodies of adults thanks to extensive research, but we’re only just beginning to conduct similar studies on children.
So far, the results have been more than promising. Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia conducted one of the first tests about children eating dark chocolate back in 2012. The findings? Feeding just a quarter-ounce of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate to a group of school children aged 10-12 showed no significant weight gain or other negative health effects they measured for. The findings did suggest that the chocolate could lower the children’s blood pressure over time, helping to combat future health issues that plague Australian and American adults, including stroke and heart disease.
Perhaps even more surprising? Chocolate could help combat diabetes. Specifically, a compound called epicatechin monomers can help combat diabetes. The compound helps beta cells secrete insulin more reliably, and cocoa powder is rich with it. Researchers conducting the 2018 study about epicatechin monomers admit that you’d probably need to eat an unpleasant amount of pure cocoa powder to see any real effects as the research presently stands, but they could soon use these findings to optimize the compound for diabetes treatments. Perhaps even in dark chocolate sweets?
Chocolate isn’t the only potentially healthy sweet. Incorporating naturally saccharine and nutritious ingredients like honey and fruits can bring sweet treats to any child. You can even take traditionally sweet snacks and sneak in healthy twists, like zucchini brownies and greens in smoothies (both taste much better than they sound, promise). Low glycemic sweeteners like agave syrup are popular and affordable now, plus they’re natural, unlike artificial sweeteners like Splenda or Equal. Basically, there’s no shortage of modern options for safe sweet consumption.
It’s important to note that according to most modern nutrition professionals, even small amounts of regular white sugar and natural fructose are perfectly safe for the average child and adult whose diets are otherwise nutritionally fulfilled. If children are taught how to self-moderate early, maybe sweets could even be considered healthful one day.