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a little sugar goes a long way

Posted by on May 2, 2011 in Blog Posts | 13 comments

We’ve been enjoying grapefruit this season for breakfast. I grew up sprinkling a little sugar on top, my husband thinks it’s already sweet enough. M, of course has always sprinkled some sugar on too. (We use raw turbinado for every day. I like the taste better.)

Anyway, we had some amazing pink grapefruit and it was so sweet. I said, “This is so sweet, I don’t even need any sugar!” M said, “Let me try.” She tried it and declared it sweet enough too. We’ve had our GF without sugar this week.

The reason I bring this up? I think some folks have an irrational fear of adding a little sugar (or whatever your sweetener of choice is.) I’ve seen a mom express shock and disdain for adding a little sugar to strawberries while her daughter munched on granola bars, or a parent of an extremely picky child insisting on “unsweetened apple-sauce.”

Sugar, as part of a varied intake, is not the enemy. If you add a little sugar to strawberries or apple-sauce, of course kids will like it better. They naturally have sweeter tastes. Adding a little sugar will not mean that they won’t be able to enjoy foods without sugar. In fact, it might help them expand their tastes. A 2008 study introduced kids to grapefruit juice. One group had sweetened juice initially, the other did not. Weeks later, both groups were served unsweetened juice. The result? The group that had the introduction with sugar actually liked the unsweetened juice more than the group that had never had the sweetened version. Same for bitter veggies. Add a pinch of sugar with initial introductions, and the kids like them better plain later. (So, let’s bust that myth that kids have to learn to like plain foods so they don’t get “hooked” on sugar, sauces or flavor…)

Kids eat foods because of how they taste, and those tastes evolve– and sugar can help, or ketchup, or a little sauce or butter or broth, or cheese… If a little sugar makes a bowl of cut strawberries taste that much better, I say go for it! (I still remember how my mom would add a little sugar and let them sit out for a few hours. They were often a little warm in the summer, and oh, so delicious!)

What do you think?

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  1. Zahra

    I do insist on unsweetened applesauce, because I find the sweetened kind to have a less distinctive “apple” taste. Also, apples are plenty sweet tasting as it is. However, the people saying that you shouldn’t offer sweet things when you introduce solids in a baby’s diet don’t consider that breast milk *is* sweet.

    My dad used to make me some warm and sweet milk on occasion when I had trouble falling asleep. My breast milk (which I have tasted) tastes very much the same as that honey-sweetened milk.

  2. Maneoplyse

    What my dad put on grapefruit for us kids was AWESOME! (And I mean that capitalization.) Angosturga bitters, you know, the extremely bitter stuff you put in Manhattans and other mixed drinks. Bitters was always around our house to put in club soda or 7-up if anyone got a tummy ache; the best stomach settler ever. Anyway, the bitterness of the Angosturga brought out the sweetness of the grapefruit and it as this great aroma that is just phenomenal with grapefruit. Angosturga is 44% alcohol by volume but you can’t drink it straight–alcohol for kids is a whole different family dynamic issue, but sometimes the best traditional foods have alcohol, so I thought I would share anyway. A little bitters on grapefruit is so tasty and I when I’m on a grapefruit for breakfast kick I have to have bitters.

    • katja

      really? Anyone else use bitters to soothe a tummy? I like tonic water when I don’t feel good… Fascinating. Don’t know when I’ll be around bitters and grapefruit at the same time, but worth a shot!

  3. Samantha C

    I was never allowed to put sugar on anything as a kid. I grew up and discovered frozen strawberries with sugar on top.

    One of the biggest things that clicked for me was realizing that there’s no possible way that adding fat or sugar could make a food less nutritious. All it would do is add fat and sugar. But we get so wrapped up in the arithmetic of food that you only think of it as “healthy” if it’s plain. So, broccoli on its own is healthy, but if you add butter you have to watch out, and if you drown it in cheese it’s now Unhealthy. As if the cheese could somehow leech the nutrients and vitamins out of the vegetable.

    I think it’s much the same with sugared fruit. If you think of fruit as a substitute for dessert especially. Take my frozen strawberries – as a kid, they’d basically be a substitute for ice cream. It’s cold and sweet-ish, but Healthy. adding sugar would make it unhealthy, so why not just have ice cream.

  4. Kate

    My mom was really controlling with food, but would allow us to have sugar on our grapefruit and I’d pile it on to the point that just thinking about it makes my stomach turn. (My mom’s method of control was kind of weird, because you’d think that she’d notice I put a ton of sugar on my food, but she didn’t, it was a weird combination of controlling and unimportant).

    Once you start adding sugar to food, how do you introduce the same food without sugar? Just suggest trying it without and if the child says they still want sugar to allow them? And how do you stop a child from adding too much sugar to something without shaming or being withholding?

    • katja

      hmm, my replies seem to be missing here… I will answer this great question in a blog post soon!

  5. lyorn

    No amount of sugar will help with grapefruit, it is just too bitter. I was allowed to empty the sugar bowl on it as a kid if I would just eat it, and I couldn’t. I could eat a lemon on a bet, or get down radiccio with no complaint, but not grapefruit.

    But I sugared my tea as if I wanted it live on it for the day. I got down from four spoons per cup to one spoon in my teens, and then in my early twenties I just stopped because I was too lazy to drag the sugar bowl around or to clean sticky cups.

    In my experience sugar is the opposite of an acquired taste. You get enough of it, you lose the taste for it over time. I suspect that kids, having to do all that energy-intensive growing up, just need sugar more.

    • katja

      That’s certainly part of it, and sweet tastes are said to develop sooner- possibly evolution? If the 3 year old on the savannah put something sweet in her mouth, it’s not likely to be toxic, like something bitter. I also think the keen interest kids have is all the talk/forbidden fruit part of it…

  6. Twistie

    Adding a bit of sugar to berries and allowing them to sit for a while macerates them – in other words, it releases the sweet-sweet natural juices so they’re swimming in their own delicious sauce. Oh, and a bit of citrus juice – sweet, sweet citrus – helps our bodies metabolize the iron in leafy greens.

    Sometimes there’s a reason in addition to flavor for doing these things… though flavor is plenty in my book.

    • katja

      umm, macerated sounds so delicious! (I think it’s a term from medical school!) It IS delicious! Great points about flavor and nutrition!

  7. baconsmom

    “Hooked on…flavor”? Do people really think that children don’t deserve delicious food? Blech. What killjoys!

    I think this demonizing of certain foods is a natural outgrowth of pathologizing natural body diversity. If fat is a disease, then something – the equivalent of a germ or virus – must have caused it. Maybe it’s carbs or sugars or cholesterol or the “wrong” kind of vegetables or fast food or white food or gluten or or or. There has to be a way to fix it, right? RIGHT?!

    When natural bodies aren’t something to be fixed, all foods become neutral.


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