It’s now common knowledge that cane sugar is unhealthy—it’s known to raise blood sugar in the body and weaken the immune system, which can cause many health conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
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And, while many processed food products such as ketchup, cereal and crackers are commonly made with cane sugar, parents are seeking out healthier alternatives to give their children. The good news: parents don’t need to look far; the following all-natural sweeteners can be purchased at many supermarket chains and online retailers.
Honey remains the holy grail of natural sweeteners. Extracted from bee hives, honey is not chemically altered from its natural form. When it comes to sweeteners, honey is perhaps the most nutritious—it contains small amounts of a wide array of vitamins and minerals, including niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc, according to the National Honey Board. Honey also healing properties, and is used to treat cough, asthma, hay fever, and heal sunburns and sores, according to Web MD. Honey is safe for baking, and is also commonly used to sweeten peanut butter sandwiches, unsweetened yogurt, and breakfast foods like pancakes and smoothies.
Many of us have been eating maple syrup since we were children, so it may be easy to forget that this wholesome syrup is an excellent choice for sweetening food. Maple Syrup contains an antioxidant called polyphenols that has been shown in studies to prevent cancer and other diseases. Maple syrup can be used instead of store bought pancake syrup, which is likely processed and contains numerous chemical additives. It can also be used for baking—use equal parts syrup to cane sugar in recipes for cookies and cup cakes. You may need to use less milk or water since the syrup is a liquid, unlike cane sugar that comes in powder form.
Organic Brown Rice Syrup
The less known of the natural sweeteners,Brown Rice Syrup is arguable less “sweet” than the others, with a mild flavor and thick consistency. The milder taste is result from of fact that this syrup is a complex carbohydrate extracted from whole grain rice, so it contains less natural sugar and processes more slowly in the body than honey, maple syrup and even agave. Brown rice syrup has a shelf life of one year, so it should last for a while in the pantry.
Pureed or Mashed Organic Fruit
Another easy fix to replace sugar in baking for kids is to use pureed or mashed fruit. Whole fruit contains the fiber and protein that is removed from fruit juice, so liquefying whole pieces of fruit is a more nutritious option than fruit juice. Bananas, apples or berries can take the place of sugar when making muffins, can be added to pancakes and smoothies, and poured over oatmeal or other hot cereal.
This raw syrup extracted from the agave plant, which is mainly grown in parts of the Southwest U.S. and in South America, contains a low glycemic index, which means it doesn’t make blood sugar in the body to spike as much as cane sugar does. But don’t let the low sugar content fool you: agave’s pungently flavorful taste will satisfy any child’s sweet tooth, and it a great choice when adding sweetener to smoothies, pancakes and cereal. It’s important to note health experts recommend that pregnant women do not eat agave since it is raw with unknown bacterial qualities.
Even with natural sweeteners, buying organic is better. It ensures that the sweetener was derived from plants not sprayed with pesticides, and prepared without the use of chemicals. As with cane sugar, healthcare professionals recommend limiting the amount of natural sweeteners in your child’s diet. All the above sweeteners are additives that raise blood sugar and cause tooth decay.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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