In response to the apparently overwhelming interest in the video games post (most hits my blog has ever had! Which is great. And scary!), I wondered if it was possible to do something similar with another controversial and oft-discussed aspect of radical unschooling – food.
As with my video games post, I set out to look for a completely biased set of science (biased in that it is the opposite of popular belief) to dispel myths and rumours that abound about food and food related topics.
I sat on the post for a while. But recently there have been a few really good articles on food, and the ‘clean food’ and ‘real food’ hype, like this one , and this one. They inspired me to come back and finish and publish my post. Here’s what I found…
Controlling their food now won’t set them up for a lifetime of ‘healthy’ eating (healthy eating being in the eye of the beholder, of course). In fact, it’s likely to set them up for a lifetime of food struggles and binge eating.
Lots of parents argue that they only allow their kids certain foods to ‘set them up’ for a lifetime of health….but the studies disagree…
- Children’s eating attitudes and behaviour: a study of the modelling and control theories of parental influence (2003) – Summary – more controlling parents had children who ate more in general, of both ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ snacks. Also, children whose parents used food as a manipulator/behaviour moderator (i.e.: do you homework or you won’t get any ice cream) were more unhappy with their body and looks.
- Development of eating behaviours among children and adolescents (1998). This study concludes that ‘Imposition of stringent parental controls can lead to preferences for high-fat, energy-dense foods, limit children’s acceptance of a variety of foods, and disrupt children’s regulation of energy intake by altering their responsiveness to internal cues of hunger and satiety.’ So, essentially – controlling their food leads them to later choose high-fat quick energy foods, and limit their acceptance of new foods, and (of course!) leave them with little ability to understand cues from their own bodies.
- Young girls emerging dietary restraint and disinhibition are related to parental control in child feeding (2000) – Summary – this study finds that parental control over food and food choices leads to disinhibition with respect to food in 5 year old girls. So essentially a lack of responsiveness to internal cues as to whether they were hungry or full. It’s not a stretch at all to imagine many of these girls might suffer from eating disorders as adults…
So. I’ve obviously convinced you that controlling your child’s food will mess them up for life, contribute to them over- or under-eating, and not being able to recognise signs from their own body as to whether they are hungry or full.
Sugar isn’t addictive, y’all!
But….if you don’t control their food, all they’ll eat is sugar, right!? Because sugar is addictive!? Well, I’m sure you know what’s coming….
A 2010 review of the literature on sugar addiction in humans comes to the conclusion that there is ‘no support from the human literature for the hypothesis that sucrose may be physically addictive or that addiction to sugar plays a role in eating disorders’. Essentially, all the support for the potentially ‘addictive’ like qualities of sugar have been from animal models, and this review finds that these don’t translate to humans.
This is a summary with quotes from the author, which is an easier read than the paper.
On the subject of addiction, there is also little evidence that there is any kind of real ‘food-addiction’ disorder, either, and I can’t find any scientific evidence that any food additives are addictive.
This page is super awesome if you are worried about chemicals in food. Everything is chemicals. Every.Single.Thing. Check the ingredients in a beetroot!
Sugar isn’t the main cause of tooth decay, and it doesn’t make your kid ‘hyper’ (and it might not make them fat, either!)!
Ok, so maybe you are questioning that sugar is addictive (or not!), but it still rots teeth and causes kids to become hyper, doesn’t it?
The answer to the tooth question is yes and no. Sugar doesn’t cause cavities or tooth decay, but, depending on your genetics and the make- up of your saliva and mouth bacteria, it can contribute. But then, so can any food containing carbs…..now for the science…(because….you’re worth it)
Acid produced by mouth bacteria causes cavities, and they are triggered to make acid when you eat carbs… Potato and whole grain bread are thought to be worse than candy and chocolate in this respect. Saltine crackers the worst still – foods that sit on your teeth, more so than chocolate! Here are some popular articles to convince you further, here and here. Please also note that the LiveScience article (the first link) also states ‘no health study has conclusively demonstrated a link between tooth decay and acidic drinks.’ So, stop demonizing pop/soda too!
The make-up of your mouth bacteria is thought to be mostly genetic, and there is evidence that it has changed in humans as we evolved from hunter gatherers to farmers and grain-eaters. People from different nationalities have distinctly different mouth bacteria, too – meaning different nationalities have a higher or lower probability of tooth decay.
Anyway, I digress, because all that was cool stuff and I got carried away! The point is that sugary drinks and chocolate and lollies don’t cause tooth decay in and of themselves. Bacteria do, and they live in your mouth all the time. And if you are going to limit those foods because of a worry about tooth decay, you’ll need to also limit potatoes, crackers, pasta, bread and pretty much every carb. Please don’t do that! Kids need carbs and lots of them! And if you are unlucky enough to have inherited bad mouth bacteria, no matter how much you brush and floss, you’ll probably get cavities.
On to the sugar/kids/hyper myth. Yes, it’s a myth! (I don’t agree with his final comment in that article, of course – but it links to good science articles examining the (non) link between sugar and hyperactivity). I don’t have anything else to say on that matter. That myth has been well and truly busted for years…let it go already!
Sugar doesn’t directly cause cavities, and doesn’t cause kids to be hyper. But does it make kids fat?
I wanted to look into the link between sugar intake and obesity. It’s hard to find articles that don’t have an obvious agenda. People want a scape goat for the obesity crisis, so you’ll find plenty of articles, even peer-reviewed one’s, that blame and demonize sugar.
However, it doesn’t seem to be that clear-cut….this study in Nature for example, finds that consumption of snack foods was ‘not an important independent determinant of weight gain among children and adolescents’. And this study concludes that food and inactivity have been unduly blamed for the obesity rise, when there are many other contributory factors – some of which they list are surprising – rise in air-conditioners in homes, prescription of anti-depressants, and a rise in non-smokers!
Other, smarter unschoolers than me have already compiled pages of research on why we shouldn’t demonize sugar…have a read here, and true stories from other unschoolers can often be more compelling than any research – researchers don’t study unschooled kids – unschooling parents do!
Organic Food isn’t ‘healthier’ for you!
In a recent discussion it was also noted that some parents buy organic produce more out of fear – fear that they’ll be poisoned by pesticides, maybe? Or that conventional food isn’t as healthy? Organic is more expensive than conventional produce, and I know families where the parent is so obsessed by food and eating ‘real food’ (let me just link again to that article, because you might have skipped it the first time!) that the kids have been missing out on other activities because they can’t afford it (all the money going on food).
So, I scoured the peer-reviewed literature for articles comparing the nutritional value of organic vs conventional foods. I do this for the simple reason that some people (us!) can’t afford to buy organic everything, and shouldn’t feel guilt or fear for not being able to do so. I buy free-range meat and free-range organic eggs primarily for animal welfare reasons. I can’t afford organic veggies, though. I eat a lot of veggies!
IF you can afford them, without that additional expense compromising other aspects of your unschooling lifestyle (e.g. you can still afford to do the fun stuff, and eat organic!), then more power to ya. But here I wanted to bust the myth about the nutritional quality.
- Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives? (2012) This is an extensive review of studies looking at health impacts of organic vs conventional foods. It concludes ‘The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.’
- Nutrition related health effects of organic foods: A systematic review (2007) Another review of the literature, slightly older than the first one and with a smaller sample size. Comes to the same conclusion – that there is no evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or have ‘nutrition related health-effects’.
- This is a popular article, but written by a researcher in nutrition. It makes some very valid points – especially this one ‘Cost can be a major barrier to increasing your fruit and vegetable intake. But it’s better to eat twice as much non-organic pumpkin, carrots, zucchinis and beans than half the amount of organic ones.’
Ok – so there is no evidence to show health-related benefits to buying organic produce. And from what I read, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of benefit to the environment either, overall (which surprised me….). For example, this recent study found there was no difference in diversity of insects, including bees and butterflies, between organic and non-organic farms once they controlled for yield. They conclude that observed differences were explained by lower yield in organic fields, but not by different management practices per se.
That’s all I got for now. Go enjoy some food without the guilt and worry everyone!