Sweets. Fix or treat?

Sweets. Fix or treat?

We’ve just gone past the ‘trick or treat’ All Hallows’ Eve. That and Clive Pearce’s comment on this post got me thinking about ‘sweets’ and ‘sweeties’: are they the treat they once were, or a ubiquitous nuisance?

Feel Fab Nutrition - Sweets - Treat or Nasty Trick?
Sweets: Treat or Nasty Trick?

I see parents in the shops promising their children sweets if they behave or saying, ‘Would you like a treat? Sweets?’ and smiling indulgently at their now excited yet suddenly well-behaved little ones. (Until the sugar and additives hit, that is.)

Sometimes I think the children are just mirroring the adults’ excitment: their neural pathways, made in their own childhoods (and strengthened by a lifetime of desserts and cakes on special occasions or on most days) that tell them sweets = happiness and fun… and the children are picking up on the joy and therefore feel happy themselves. Kids love to share in their loved adults’ excitement.

The questions to ask here are:

  • What do sweets do to the body and mind?
  • How often should a sweets treat happen?
  • Does the word ‘treat’ need to equate with ‘sweets’?
  • The power of advertising
  • Do I think children should never have sweets?
  • What you can do

What do sweets do to the body and mind?

If I manufactured a new ‘food’ and insisted you feed it to your children (and maybe even yourselves) and it did these things… would you shout ‘NO! How dare you!’ and accuse me of being part of a money-driven conspiracy, or would you grab the stuff with glee, especially if I made it cheap? This food would:

  • Be a cause of tooth decay
  • Be mildly addictive
  • Increase appetite
  • Increase the chances of metabolic syndrome
  • Increase the chances of fatty liver
  • Often contain chemicals that were never designed to be eaten or sorted out by the liver*
  • Increase the recipients’ need for junk foods
  • Inhibit uptake of vital nutrients
  • Cause an increase hyperactivity, asthma and hives in sensitive-to-chemicals people

This is, of course, what sweets can do and I’ll be looking at these problems in more detail in my book. (Get notice of when it’s published.) In the meantime, there are some links at the end of this article.

Sugar that’s added to sweets is sucrose, made from 50:50 glucose to fructose. Other sweeteners include high fructose corn syrup (HFCS – containing slightly more fructose than glucose) and artificial additives such as saccharine and Aspartame.

Glucose, in and of itself, is not a problem: we can use it for energy and, consumed in vegetables, causes no damage to the body. Too much, such as when we get it in sweets, causes insulin spikes, insulin resistance, lack of energy and more. It can also cause dental caries if not brushed off the teeth.

Fructose, consumed occasionally in whole fruits, is also not a problem; high amounts of it (in sweets and fruit juices) absolutely is – for example, it can damage our appetite control and, even worse, cause non-alcoholic steatosis (fatty liver). That is, we can start getting weight (fat) problems and the liver can become as fatty and damaged as if one were an alcoholic. 🙁

Sugar also causes heightened opioid and dopamine responses in the brain, leading to a dependency that can be hard to crack. Artificial sweeteners, used instead of sugar and HFCS in sweets, don’t do this, but they are implicated in all sorts of behavioural and health issues.

Sugar, not saturated fats, is what makes your arteries and body unhealthy. Large amounts of fructose can raise triglycerides, small, dense LDL and oxidized LDL (very, very bad); excess glucose increases insulin resistance (so your blood sugars go up, your muscles don’t get as much fuel as they need and your fat cells increase)  and increases abdominal obesity.**

While your liver is getting overloaded with fat (because it can’t process all that fructose), it’s also getting bombarded with additives that are toxic to the body. A healthy liver can process and neutralise toxins, but an overworked liver just can’t keep up, meaning your whole body becomes less healthy.

Excess sugar is implicated not only with metabolic syndrome but also with faster ageing and cancer. A child who is used to sweets runs a greater risk of maintaing a sweet tooth into adulthood and therefore eating more sugar than is heathy.

And there’s more! But that’s enough depressing reading for one sitting.

How often should a sweets treat happen?

A daily ‘treat’ is a fix, not a treat. Think on it and then decide.

(Don’t be tempted to feed the children soft drinks or fruit juices instead; they are damaging too.)

Does the word ‘treat’ need to equate with ‘sweets’?

What other treats could you have instead? An apple, a game, an activity? Sweets just don’t need to come into it or, if they do, just very occasionally.

The power of advertising

Advertsing is sooo powerful, especially for children who haven’t learned to differentiate between ‘real’ and ‘made up’.

Sweets adverts are there to make the manufacturers and their shareholders happy. They are not there to bring delight to children!

The governments, shame on them, are too much in thrall to the sugar giants, ‘Big Food’ and their lobbyists… so don’t expect them to help you.

Do I think children should never have sweets?

Children don’t need sweets at all. Surrounded by sweets, however, it’s not that easy – and revolting as some sweets/candy are, there is a definite pleasure in others. I really think, however, sweets should be an occasional treat and with no excitement attached. The more children don’t indulge what is a naturally sweet tooth, the better. I believe sweets should be handed out piecemeal and not delivered in huge packets to chomp over the next few hours.

Sweets need to be a genuine treat and not a daily fix.

Remember too that this is about your children and their health… and not about your vicarious pleasure at their delight of shoving fists full of candy into their mouths, eyes sparkling with delight. Neither is it about keeping them quiet while you get on with something else. There are other ways to glory in their pleasure or to keep them quiet.

Of course, you may disagree with all that – do let me know or leave a comment below. (Politely!)

What you can do

:: Make sweets or sweet treats with your children: this way you know what’s going into them, you get the fun of licking the spoon and the results really are a treat – and much of the pleasure for the children has come through doing an activitiy with you. The kiddies also learn about how to treat hot pans, etc, with caution.

:: Have one or two sweets (not packets!) after the evening meal and before teeth-brushing time, or have a week’s worth on, for example, a Saturday morning; keep firm on other non-sweetie times unless they’re at a party, for example.

:: As you go into a shop/shopping centre, get them to choose their best piece of fruit or a comic rather than a packet of sweets.

:: Skip puddings/deserts at home; they don’t need them, you won’t be feeding the sweet tooth monster and you’ll be saving money.

:: Go to shops where there aren’t sweets lined up at the entrance and/or check out.

:: If you can avoid it (I know not every one can), don’t take your children shopping.

:: Treat sweets with indifference.

:: Feed them a piece of good quality plain chocolate – they  will spit it out and decide they don’t want to take part in chocolate-eating nonsence. Am I joking? That’s for you to decide.

In conclusion, I’d say no need to totally ban sweets, but make sure they are an occasional treat in an otherwise healthful diet. Really, it’s up to you, but you need to hand out sweets in full knowledge of the facts.


Further reading


*Some additives are not as bad as others, as you can see in this PDF… but remember: real foods don’t contain additives at all. Also bear in mind the authors of the PDF are pro-sweets – look for the money.

An outline of some harmful food additives is here and a comparison of natural and artificial additives here.

In the interests of balance, here’s one from the candy industry. (You’ll need register with your email address and post code and pretend you are in the food industry and sign in).

Aspartame, the problems

See herehere, and here.


Study: Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans


Spread the love