When Sugar Is Still Sugar

My son came bounding up to me with a smile. “Mommy, can I have another box of juice?,” he asked. I looked at the packaged box of 100% apple juice that one of my fellow church goers had brought for the kids. “No, son. That’s full of sugar,” I replied.

Another mom nearby interrupted, “No, there’s no sugar in that. It’s 100% juice.” If my attention hadn’t have been divided between my three month old daughter, my 6 year old son, and a conversation with friend that my son had interrupted, I might have corrected the well-intentioned mother. 100% juice is still full of sugar (in the form of concentrated fructose), even if it has no refined sugar added to it.

These days, people’s definitions of “sugar” and “sweets” are strangely warped.

I’ll give another example. We’re sitting at booth in one of my favorite local restaurants (one of the few nearby places that serves real butter, organic dairy, local produce, naturally-raised meats, and yard eggs with startlingly orange yolks) when the waitress places a plate full of steaming hot biscuits on our table. My oldest son gobbles one up, and within seconds he’s asking for another.

“No, son. I don’t want you to get full on biscuits.” I say.

“But please!!”


“It’s because it’s sugar, isn’t it?”

“That too.”

White flour biscuits don’t taste all that sweet. But they’re sugar all right. They’re a pure refined carbohydrate, digested just like refined white sugar and just as responsible for spiking insulin levels.

Here’s one final example. This morning I slept in while my boys woke up early and prepared themselves morning snacks. When I woke up, I asked them what they’d eaten already. I expected them to tell me they’d had some cheese, grapes, or nuts (the only easily available snack foods I’d left out for them).

“We had that,” my oldest son said, pointing to a glass of dark amber liquid on the table. I racked my brain trying to figure out what beverage I had that looked like that. All I had in my fridge were raw milk and kombucha. This mysterious liquid was neither.

“And what exactly is that?” I asked.

“Maple syrup!” my son answered gleefully.

I’ll pause here and let you stop laughing. Not long afterward, they were buckled into their grandmother’s car, on their way to a community bible study. As I gave them their final kisses and goodbyes, I turned to my mother-in-law and said, “Since they sneaked maple syrup for breakfast (which they know is a no-no), can you tell their teachers to not let them have anything sweet?”

“Oh,” she said, “they never serve anything sweet in class. Sometimes they give them cookies, but they’re not sweet. They’re like animal crackers. And last week, when they did Joseph’s coat of many colors they made an edible one out of fruit roll ups, but that’s fruit.”

Since she was driving away, I let it slide and figured I’d bring it up again later.

But cookies, fruit roll ups, fruity gummy bears, and other fruit-flavored “fruit snacks” really are sweets. Whether you think of them that way or not, that’s how your body digests them.

When did our definition of sweets get so warped? Since when are fruit juice, fruit roll ups, and animal crackers NOT considered “sweets”?

When my boys got home I asked what they’d eaten for a snack in class.

“Chocolate Cheerios, Mommy!” His grin was ear to ear.


  1. says

    People think I’m a mean mom because my son RARELY drinks juice, and it’s often watered down when he does. (He’s 7 and many think he is plenty old enough to have straight juice). I do let him have 100% fruit leathers ~ mostly because they are one of the few non-processed, easy to grab snacks from the store. I do LIMIT them though. I would in no way think it’s OK to eat as many as he wants.

  2. says

    Thank you for this post.

    I have just started sending my 4 yr old to 2 day a week preshool. They actually pass out CANDY!!!! And, each day rotates as to who brings snack. I have yet to see anything unprocessed. But, without preaching to my son he refused the M&Ms and asked for a sticker instead. The teachers were amazed and the next day started treating with grapes instead! Just keep on modeling good eating for your kids – btw if it doesn’t come in its skin, I consider it processed. Call me a mean mommy – I don’t care!

  3. says

    Yep, I’m also that mom. Pretty sure all the other moms think I’m some sort of control freak because I don’t let my *18 month old* eat Cheerios, animal crackers, fruit snacks, juice, etc, etc. Yeah, *I’m* the crazy one. I just figure, if they knew what I know, they wouldn’t either.

  4. says

    So frustrating isn’t it?

    I know exactly what you mean here Kristen. I am constantly telling my 9 year old son that fruit is sugar, and bread turns to sugar. He has a hard time believing me.

    Sugar for a snack, everywhere you turn! Every Sunday after Sunday school, the kids are getting candy after they’ve memorized their verses. Arrowroot cookies in the nursery. Cookies and juice after church service. Arghhh!

  5. says

    I’m one of those moms too. It’s the most challenging part of my life right now, feeding my kids real food while they are exposed to everything else in school, parties, and playdates. I use to really freak out about the krispy kreme doughnuts they get at school parties and high sugar snacks, but I realize that they are getting at least 80 to 90 percent of their nutrition at home, and if I do the best I can at home maybe that’s enough to balance out the rest. Banning my 3 kids from eating the junk at school may backfire on me, at least now they tell me when they do eat it and I try to make up for it with extra FCLO and enzymes.

    Thanks for posting about this Kristen, this is a topic that needs more attention. I wish pediatricians would be telling this to new parents – I know some do, but not enough.

  6. says

    Yes! Someone on the same sugar page as me, finally! I’m not a “no-sugar ever mom”, but jeez-louise, I’m amazed at how many smart people are totally snowed by what is and isn’t concentrated sugar.

    Just this evening I was explaining to my 12 yo that the potato he ate with dinner breaks down into sugar (glucose). For once he wasn’t tuning me out, probably because it seemed so unbelievable.

  7. says

    I had no idea they even made chocolate cheerios! You know, the maple syrup gave them their manganese and zinc for the day, along with other minerals like potassium, calcium and iron anyway!

  8. says

    It is amazing isn’t it? I have had sugar issues my whole life so have been the sugar nazi in our house. I limit fruit too, being sure that they get plenty of fat and protein above all else.

    My four-year-old is now saying “I don’t like sugar.” And of course I grin, but I think it is simply him seeing us talk about certain foods, what’s in them, and why they’re not good for us. So if I say fruit has sugar in it he turns his nose up and says “I don’t like sugar.” And it makes limiting his intake all the more easier because all I have to say is “it has sugar in it.”

    • KristenM says

      I finally started vehemently expressing my opinion about some of the food choices my kids make while eating out. Instead of just reluctantly saying, “I guess you can eat that Create-A-Face Pancake as a special treat,” I started saying, “That Create-A-Face pancake is disgusting. PINK yogurt? Yogurt shouldn’t be pink. And it’s full of sugar that will make you grumpy.” After that one meal of me expressing my honest disgust, my 6 year old swore he would never order the Create-A-Face pancake again. And he’s stuck to that decision. So, perhaps simply talking in a really expressive way about food choices can go pretty far.

  9. Leah says

    Ugh, candy at preschool??!!

    I don’t have kids (yet), but my mom managed to do a great job with us. She was a pretty strict no-sugar mom (we could eat honey at home occasionally), but she wasn’t a total no-sugar nazi, which kept it from being some kind of forbidden delight.

    We could have a sweet treat in our lunches on Fridays only, we could have a Sprite if we went out to eat, we could have dessert at our Grandma’s house. So we weren’t totally sugar free. But as we’ve grown up, both my sister and I have never really been sugar people. I’ve never really liked candy, never been addicted to soda or sweet drinks.

    So when I went totally sugar-free last year, it wasn’t such a big leap. Now I don’t even eat fruit much, only about once a month, and it doesn’t really bother me.

    I only hope that if/when I have kids that I can learn when to let it go, and when to be really strict. Sounds like you’re doing really well at that.

    • Leah says

      Oh, and I forgot to mention that neither of us has ever had a cavity in our teeth. And we’re both in our early 30s. Thanks mom!

  10. says

    Oh the sugar drives me BATS!!!! There is nothing that gets my goat faster than sugar. I find the same issue with my baby sitter who stays with my kids full time. I am constantly montitoring snacks. What our kids eat today is so vastly different than what we ate growing up. It confuses me.

  11. says

    When my 5yo son was about 3, he used to decline sweets and say “No thanks, sugar makes you grumpy!” That was only because we talked about it at home, and now he happily gobbles up sweets away from home if he gets the chance. I try not to totally forbid sugar, and I make compromise treats once in a while at home. I don’t want it to be a “forbidden fruit” and more tempting, but man is it hard to limit it! I am also appalled by people’s reactions when I say that fruit and crackers are not healthy snacks. Or yogurt cups, which are horribly sugar-laden! Thankfully, we homeschool and are home most of the time, so I have a high degree of control over what we eat.

  12. says

    This is all so true and such a battle. Everywhere you go people are trying to shove sugar down our throats whether it be saltine crackers or fruit snacks. Our church is pretty awesome. (We live in Southern CA which tends to be very very health conscious.) Recently my church decided to adapt to dairy free, diabetic friendly, no gluten, no nuts food policy to meet all kids dietary restrictions. Which has translated into giving our kids fresh fruit and vegetables. Mine are bummed b/c that was the only place they got “gold fish”.

    Right now we have two huge bags of Halloween candy at home. Ideally I’d like to just throw it away or not have gone Trick-or-Treating at all but I don’t believe in iron fisted control freak parenting. My oldest will be 11 in a few months and looks forward to Halloween all year. Instead we talk about it. The whys, the hows, the whens. Again and again. I hope by the time they grow up they will choose to pass it up most of the time (or accept it’s addictive and never have any)…I’ll see. Time will tell.

    • KristenM says

      My kids go trick-or-treating, but at the end of the night we let them choose their 5 most favorite candies. They can eat one that night and save the other 4 for the next morning. We then “buy” the rest of the candy off them for a toy. It’s really not so bad. I spent $5 on a Hot Wheels truck for each boy, got to throw away bag-fulls of candy, and neither one protested in the slightest.

      • Gina says

        We do something similar – but our kids got to pick 10 pieces of their fave candy – we then bought the rest for 5 cents per piece. The 10 y.o. wasn’t thrilled, but I told him the options were, sell me your candy or give me your candy. The 5 y.o. thought it was great. And they’re such hoarders that their candy will be squirreled away for weeks.
        The 5 y.o.’s kindergarten teacher gives “snack” everyday – goldfish, animal crackers, etc. When we explained at the back-to-school night that he has a sugar aversion, she blankly stated “but there’s no sugar in the snacks we give”. We thanked her and said we’ll be sending snack from home everyday. This woman is a parent and a teacher and doesn’t think there’s sugar!

    • Angie B says

      We only recently began our food conversion and Halloween was a great source of stress for me. Two days after I offered the kids $10 each for their bags…and they went for it!! (smiling ;-)) Of course they’d already eaten quite a few pieces but they were totally willing to give it up for the greater good – they are ages 10, 11, and almost 13 so spending money was a big deal. I’m not a total sugar nazi (yet) so maybe it I were they’d be less likely to do it.

  13. Terri says

    I used to volunteer in my church’s children’s ministry. When I first started, they stocked animal crackers and Goldfish. However, when a new director took over, she decided because of food allergies there would be no food served at ALL.

    And it’s fine! It only took the kids a week or two to get used to it. No longer than church lasts, you really don’t need to feed them. And that way the parents don’t have to worry, if they’re trying to control their children’s intake–whether for allergies, or to limit sugar, or whatever.

  14. Ty S says

    I’ve been eating sugar and generally unhealthy foods all of my life and I’m finding it very difficult to quit. I’ve found this site to be very informative and hopefully I’ll eventually get on and stay on the bandwagon. (And try to take over the shopping. Apparently I buy too much “exotic” food, aka non-processed. This is gonna be tough) But I do have concerns about what I’ve read on this page.

    Fruit. I keep seeing fruit getting demonized. Why? Yes, it can be high in sugar. But as long as you’re physically active and use reasonable amounts it’s not going to hurt you. Plus the fiber in fruit is said to actually slow down the absorption of sugar. The nutritional value of fruit is undeniable (as along as it’s been grown in soil not depleted by unsustainable agriculture practices anyways).

    Aside from that, fruit rollups are fruit? What?

    • Angie B says

      It’s about quantity and at the end of the day it’s eye opening when you realize how much you’ve consumed. For example, my kids wanted juice with dinner last night, grape juice has 41 grams of sugar in an EIGHT ounce serving – yikes!! Sugar (in any form) and carbs that turn straight into sugar are the reason we are so obese and unhealthy in our country. The vitamins and minerals in vegetables are actually more concentrated than fruit with less sugar. I think what you’re seeing here is that people are bothered by the concentrated juice products that are taughted as health food. Hope this helps!

    • Blakery says

      I don’t think there’s any harm in whole fruit, so long as it doesn’t get to excessive levels. But then again, a lot of people equate fruit with healthy, and include in that juice and processed foods made with fruit (fruit roll-ups, granola bars, etc.).

  15. says

    The juice thing really gets to me! I don’t cut sugar out altogether, but I don’t keep juice in the house and try to limit sugar treats to outside the home, so that it’s not an everyday thing. It’s so sad that our culture has allowed marketing/advertising to educate us about health – those labels touting 100% juice, made with juice, etc. just kill me because I know that people buying them think they’re doing something good for their children. Instead, they’re filling them up with sugar; then they don’t know why their little ones won’t eat their meat and veggies, or even real fruit!

  16. says

    This is such a tricky situation. One I grapple with daily myself. I’m just glad to know others struggle too. All we can do is our best, I guess. How on Earth can we educate others without sounding high and mighty though? Argh.

  17. says

    I made my 4-year-old son a peanut butter protein shake for breakfast this morning (raw egg yolks and all). I was kinda in a rush, and I guess I didn’t moderate the honey too much because two minutes after he drank it he said to me (while holding his tummy), “Mommy, you put too much honey in that!” Ack. I felt kinda bad, but at least he knows the feeling of having too much sugar!

    I feel like I’m lax on our food rules sometimes. We do lots of traditional foods and not much junk, but I feel like far from a real food perfectionist. But when I see what other people are feeding their kids, I realize how different we really eat from everyone else. And I’m glad I’m no longer brainwashed by the sugarholic food industry.

  18. says

    Go mommys! Go! Keep teaching and preaching – your kids are listening! Mine are now 4th and 6th grade and though it was a long haul to get them this way I don’t have to worry about when they are presented with less than stellar choices at parties, church, etc. They just say “no thanks” and ask for the water. I try to bring something from home that they really like so at least there will be something they can eat while everyone around them is eating. They both also now educate others as to why some foods aren’t good choices. My son’s Sunday School teacher now knows about MSG in Doritos :) We are raising the next generation of wise parents and hopefully then there won’t even be such a thing as Pink Yogurt! (Ok, I can dream can’t I?)

  19. says

    Wow, my mom never cared about how much sugar I ate! It was very hard to change my diet once I grew up and she thinks I’m a fringe lunatic for eating a healthier diet. In fact, most people think I’m a fringe lunatic period for my organic, non-processed food diet. I do still eat cane sugar and I’m wondering if thats bad for you.

    • Blakery says

      Cane sugar is still refined sugar. There was a great vid on sugar posted on this site under the title “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.” If you have any doubts, that would be the place to go.

  20. says

    I have a good friend who has the same problem with her child. They managed to keep him away from candy for the first few years, but the in-laws were always giving him cookies, and there were pressures of play dates, parties, etc.

  21. says

    This *is* hard! Also, I have a hard time with defining ‘sugar free’ – because it can be free of the ingredient sugar, but still have sugars from honey, apples, etc in it. Some of my recipes I say are sugar free, but they do contain the macronutrient sugar, just not the ingredient sugar. My daughter, who is on SCD and cannot have any refined table sugar, ends up having quite a bit of fruit sugar and honey.

  22. says

    Glad to see so many mom’s on the no sugar-wagon, I am too, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I’m really the only mom in most of the moms I know who really pays attention to this. My son had a sleepover last night with a new school friend from his new school, and his mother was telling me a few weeks back how careful she used to be with her two boys diet’s when they were younger, and has found that the older they get the harder it has become (she’s also a single mom, and I think some single parents find that as things get more overwhelming in trying to do it all themselves, things like nutrition start to slide). When he came home today, I learned that for dinner they had pizza and cereal and milk for breakfast – and most of the time my son is really not supposed to eat wheat or many grains, period. As another example, when he goes to see his grandparents, it’s the same thing happening. I’ve told my Dad, who makes most of the decisions about what my son eats when he is with him, to please limit the bread products and sugar that he eats. But then when he comes home, I hear that he’s been eating pizza or sandwiches at a restaurant with my Dad, and that so much of what he’s been fed for meals contains a ton of sugar, and that’s just the so-called food he’s eaten – not including any treats he might have or that my Dad might have bought for him. It’s almost like my Dad has no respect for the guidelines I set for my son, and I find it to be exasperating. As he gets older, he goes more and more places without me and I feel like my ability to control his diet continues to diminish with each passing day. I know the rules I’ve set up for him to follow should stay with him in some fundamental way, but then I know the temptation to eat sugary, nutritionally bankrupt foods can be very strong – especially when mom is not around.

  23. Maleyna says

    I wish that all of those well-meaning adults could see what happens to my son the day after he eats just a bit of chocolate or sweets. There they are, looking at me disapprovingly because I am so mean and don’t let him eat much sugar of any kind. Where are they when I cave and the next day he is out of control, screaming and crying, and suffering because I didn’t hold the line? Where are they when he gets candida overgrowth and has to stay on the GAPS diet for long periods of time to heal it? How dare they stand in judgement when they don’t have a clue?

    • KristenM says

      “Out of control, screaming and crying.” — AMEN! My oldest son LOVES his sugar. He has such an unbelievable sweet tooth and would eat sugar all day long if I let him. So, I rarely let him. But when he does, he starts throwing temper tantrums, being insolent, breaking down in tears over the tiniest little things, etc. And it’s not his fault. It’s the sugar’s.

  24. joshua says

    We are definitely weirdos compared to others we know regarding the food we eat and don’t eat. But it is starting to seem so hard to know what is “right” to eat. There are so many things to consider, and this has not been one of them. feeling overwhelemed.

    • joshua says

      Oh.. we’ve already taken steps to obtain real milk (goat), real meat & eggs and are attempting fermented and raw….. (sprouted quinoa, chickpeas and pumpkin seeds failed) but there seems to be so much more to ‘get it right’

  25. Jessica says

    I don’t know…a kid drinking maple syrup like it’s a beverage really does not seem normal to me. It makes me wonder if it’s a result of being overly strict about sugar? What do you think?

    • KristenM says

      Jessica — I *wish* I were overly strict about sugar. The truth is that I’m not. I let them have their treat — usually daily. I just don’t let them go back for seconds and thirds because I know these are TREATS, and NOT “healthy snacks.”

  26. says

    I enjoyed this post, and after reading it and the comments yesterday I didn’t feel the need to add anything. However, after thinking about it for a day I have a question. Is this post a result of adults not knowing enough about sugar and its sources, or about all forms of sugar being bad? I suspect the former, but wanted to ask. I don’t imagine you’re saying all fruits and vegetables are bad for us.

    My husband was incredulous when I explained to him while we were dating that all carbohydrates break down to simple sugars-and he’s got a bit of chemical knowledge and background. The time it takes for that breakdown will vary based on the complexity of the carb, but it’s all the same chemical makeup.

    • KristenM says


      You’re right in your suspicions. I am certainly a lover of fruits vegetables and carbohydrates in general. I just want them to be in their natural form.

      So, fruit juice, for example is a “sweet treat” because it’s not in it’s natural form, even if it’s 100% juice. In nature, that juice comes with a WHOLE FRUIT, and gets digested along with pectin, cellulose, etc. Eaten that way, it’s good for you.

      But a juice is basically concentrated fructose, guaranteed to be digested entirely in the liver and produce a reaction similar to that of digesting alcohol (Seriously. Have you seen this video?) AND you’re drinking an awful lot of it. Most people can down a tall glass of juice without any pause, but they couldn’t eat the 6 apples that it took to make that quantity of juice.

      All this to say, NO, not all forms of sugar are bad. And YES, many adults don’t seem to know enough about sugar and its sources.

      • says

        Thanks for the reply! I am a juice fanatic-well, orange juice anyway. We juiced a bunch of apples this year because we had too many to just eat. We used the “leftovers” to make apple butter. While making it, I did conclude that people didn’t drink much juice in times gone by because the effort involved in getting it probably wasn’t worth the quantity received. Or else it was truly appreciated as a treat, rather than another grocery list item.

  27. Kris says

    YEAH! It is wonderful to know that I am not alone! My kids never have juice, fruit snacks etc. My kids consider it a special treat to have watered down juice, and then they think it is really swett! That is such a good feeling.

    I had someone give me a weird look at our natural food store when I told my daughter we couldn’t buy the natural “fruit leathers” because they were just like candy.

    I try to explain that sugar is sugar to friends/family – hard to fight the normal mentality. Chocolate milk is not better than soda – especially when they put about 1/4 cup of choco HFCS in it! Why don’t we just give you diabetes in a bottle?

    Oh well, this is one of the many reasons I home school, I would have a very hard time letting go of the “real” diet that I have raised my kids with. I don’t think my kids are old enough yet to make their own food choices with peer pressure, and who knows what junk they would end up eating.

    Kuddos to the pre schooler turning down M&M’s – GOOD JOB MOM! :))


  28. julia says

    i have four small boys and i can totally relate to this!!!! i have to admit i was giggling only b/c this is so reality! keep strong in training them up right in both ways….the Lord:) and the health/food!

  29. says

    It is funny yet sad that the masses cannot really identify sugar. Sugar has been so identified with the white granular stuff that people forget all the other forms of sugar. Imagine telling people that the lactose in milks is also another form of sugar that can actually spike insulin levels!

  30. says

    Thank you, I really needed this reminder. My children are grown, I needed the reminder for myself. I’ve started thinking if it is all natural, fruit based, whatever excuse I came up with, it would be ok. Truth is it is still sugar and I don’t feel as well when I have too much sugar.


  31. says

    Oh this is so true! We do not drink juice at all, or even packaged foods, which always contain too much sugar for us. Our kids actually start to feel bad if they eat things like that, b/c they are not used to the sugar. They read labels now too. In addition, there are people we have come across, friends and family, who make or buy foods and tout that they contain no sugar. They are amazed that it still tastes great and is “healthy” because they are trying to stay away from sugar too. Turns out it contains aspartame. So there is the other confused mindset that “sugar free” is healthy, even if it includes an even more dangerous alternative. Even if you tell them about the dangers. It is always, “well I CAN’T have sugar” (diabetics). I wish I could convince them. Perhaps it is that they have cultivated a sweet tooth for so long now that they simply have to have something sweet, and doc says no sugar, so….

    Nickole @ http://www.savvyteasandherbs.com

  32. Amy says

    Wow, this article definitely struck a chord with me. We try and keep our 4 year old daughter as “in line” and healthy as possible when it comes to the treats or snacks we offer her, but particularly with the grandparents, it is VERY difficult. We have had the amazing gift of both of the grandmothers (mainly my mother-in-law) keeping our daughter since she was born since both me and my husband work full time, but that also opens up the door to me having to choose my battles. This is a sensitive subject….despite them knowing what we do and don’t want her to have on a regular basis. Let me stress “on a regular basis” here. Meaning once a week or so is fine, but not daily. Most common people do not understand the underlying harm in most processed foods and think that the “all natural” or “whole grain” label makes serving carb-laden snacks and juices acceptable to little bellies. It is a constant battle and I have to sometimes just grin and bear it, but nonetheless frustrating. We do not regularly buy juice, goldfish, cookies, candy etc. but keep healthier snacks like raisins, nuts, seaweed, (our daughter LOVES seaweed…we cannot keep it in the cupboards) and almost always have fresh fruits and veggies cut and ready to eat in the fridge. 75% of the time these work for our daughter but it is understandable that in this modern day, she is going to be exposed to these nasty foods. It is a fine line to walk so you don’t create a food obsession or make things so off limits that the child craves them, so I make sure to get a special treat each week or so so she knows it’s fine to have these things, but not as a normal part of our diet. It’s awesome to make grain free mudslide chocolate cookies with your child so you know what is going into them , the ingredients list isn’t one mile long, and your child appreciates homemade foods; but still you must just accept that your child will sometimes encounter “evil”  foods…just hopefully not that often!
    Like many of the previous comments from mom’s our daughter goes to a pre-school 3 days a week for 3 hours each day. If the kids are good they get 2 skittles at the end of the day and for snack they almost always get a processed carb. After the first year I just had to pick my battles again and realize that she gets an amazing diet 75-80% of the time and I don’t need to obsess with everything else. I don’t want to be “that crazy mom”, but it’s hard!

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