why it's important that cakes should remain occasional treats
Many cakes are works of art – who wouldn’t be entranced by the beautiful, shimmery pastel coloured creations in the windows of cake shops? I struggle with how to deal with cakes – I really don’t want the kids stuffing their faces with butter, sugar, white flour and artificial colours, but nor do I want to give them an unhealthy attitude to food. So should we let our kids eat cake? I find that the fastest way to get a child to want something is to deny them it, so my way around this is to have a policy of treats when we eat out (within reason!) and at home we generally eat stacks of nutritious food. Kids form their adult tastes by what they eat most as children, so by eating well at home, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll end up reverting to good food habits as adults.
My slight dilemma is the frequency of treats. In the holidays, we seem to have a treat or two every day. Is this right? When we were young, we didn’t have cakes, sweets and biscuits everywhere we turned. Now, we go to the supermarket, and there’s a café at the end with indulgent cakes; birthday sweets are handed out at school; we go out for the day and stop for coffee (and cake). What was once a treat is no longer one – there’s a treat most days. And I’m as much at fault as anyone.
Why are sweet treats such a problem?
As Registered Nutritional Therapists we see clients every day with health issues heavily impacted by poor diet:
- Childhood obesity: one in three UK children aged two to nineteen are overweight or obese, second only to the USA.
- More and more children are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, previously known as ‘adult onset’ diabetes: Type 2 diabetes is caused by eating foods that adversely impact our blood sugar levels, such as sugar and white flour products
- Children have increasing behavioural and learning problems: both are influenced by diet – particularly imbalanced blood sugar levels.
We live in a society where we are seeing children dying before their parents from often preventable diseases. It’s a sobering thought.
Are cakes really that bad?
The simple answer is yes, they often are. Just think about some of the main ingredients:
- White flour – contains few nutrients, low fibre and impacts blood sugar levels in a similar way to sugar – often leading to hyper, moody children.
- Sugar – has no nutritional value whatsoever and adversely impacts blood sugar.
- Chemically modified fats such as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. These damaging Trans fats are found in many processed foods, including cakes. They can’t be recognised by the body and are linked with a raised risk of future disease (although at least home-made cakes can be made without Trans fats)
- Food colourings – linked to behavioural problems, learning difficulties and hyperactivity in children
- Empty calories – by filling up on cakes, we’re limiting the room for other, nutritious foods that should be in the diet in order that we can get the fibre, vitamins and minerals we need every day. This also leads to more hunger (and more calories consumed) – by eating foods that raise blood sugar quickly, and thus insulin, our appetite ‘brake’ leptin, is not turned off. This means that right after eating a massive cake, we still feel hungry.
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Are there healthier alternatives?
Yes! It’s actually pretty easy to make healthier cakes, and by using less sugar, you’ll be adjusting your kids tastes towards less sweet food options (a good thing). Vegetables and fruit add sweetness to cakes. You can pack cakes full of nuts and seeds and use wholemeal flour to raise fibre. Use xylitol (looks like sugar but is low GI so doesn’t impact blood sugar) or molasses (the by-product of sugar production, and rich in minerals) instead of white sugar. They will taste different to the beautiful swirly pink cupcake, but that’s because they contain nutrients and fibre. However – I’ve served our cupcake recipe, topped with whipped coconut cream, at children’s birthday parties and not one child has batted an eyelid – if one child eats something, the rest generally follow with a herd-like mentality.
We’re not saying don’t eat the pretty pink cupcakes – just that they should be respected for the works of art that they are. Keep them for special occasions, not for every day treats.
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