Daily responsibilities and financial restraints often run parents into the arms of fast-food chains, pre-packaged dishes, and a reliance on school systems to feed their little ones. But with diabetes, and other dietary issues attacking Black families at disturbing rates, physicians are urging parents to pay greater heed in how they foster their children’s relationships with food.
According to Newswise.com, Black Americans rank highest in diabetes cases and related preventable deaths in 30 of the largest U.S. cities. Even more disturbing, the D.C. metropolitan area holds the largest percentage of those mortality inequities nationally, leaving a greater number of Black children vulnerable to the pattern of nutrition deficit. Sugar is a chief component.
“You have to understand that so many [Black American] adults have diabetes, so the children are learning what their parents are teaching them, and they’re also eating what their parents are eating,” said Andrea Sullivan, Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine at the Center for Natural Healing in D.C. “So, when you talk about sugar, you have to look at things like baked beans, ketchup, [and] certainly these protein bars that have a lot of sugar. You’ve got spaghetti sauce, coffee creamers, [and even the] canned fruits are probably some of the worse because they’ve got sugar.”
While most are widely familiar with the dessert menu treats commonly linked to high sugar levels, few consider the less researched foods that contain loads of sugar, including low-fat yogurt, soups, or even barbeque sauce. Often these items are coded with sugars listed as derivatives in the forms of dextrose, maltodextrin, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, or galactose.
Further, with major goods distributor Monsanto producing a large percentage of products that contain genetically modified or enhanced ingredients, the nutritional value of our daily intake grows increasingly questionable. Monsanto came under fire in 2020 after allegations their Roundup Maker weed killer caused cancer in the Edwin Hardeman case.
Christina Burrell, Cafeteria Lead of Excel Academy in SE, DC has spearheaded progressive initiatives to cut down the sugar content of student meals, while simultaneously running a food service providing “Market Boxes” to student families. Each box contains fresh meat, or vegetarian options, coupled with rice, various pastas, collard greens, kale, potatoes, onions, cucumbers, and a myriad of fresh fruits which will last each recipient 7-10 days.
“Excel Academy serves rather nutritional meals because we have a team of nutritionists that work in the DCPS central office. They use Michelle Obama’s guidelines for the national school lunch programs [initiated when she was first lady], and make all the meals upon those guidelines because there is a sugar, and salt level that we are not to exceed,” said Burrell. “We are as health-conscious as possible. We also have a program called FFVP, which is the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program. It provides different fruits and vegetables that the kids may not get at home. Some kids have never seen fruits like watermelon radishes, or a dragon fruit before.”
Although the District may be doing their part, Dr. Sullivan continues to stress the importance of learning how to eat clean at home. Her latest book, “Enough: When Sacrifice Has Gone Too Far,” summarizes the alarming price of overindulging in those staple foods that drive us to poor health.
“Soul food, as I say in my book, may take you faster to your soul than you might want to go, because that’s not what we’re supposed to be eating anymore,” Sullivan said. “You have to make some [different] choices.”