Nutrition is a critically important aspect of daily life, and yet, it’s been nearly ignored in schools until recent years. Healthy food isn’t as profitable as junk food. Schools generate massive revenue from vending machines full of chips, cookies, and candy alongside vending machines full of soda pop and other sugary drinks.
American schools have been providing students with access to junk food through vending machines and meal options for decades. In the 1990s, vending machines stocked all the top brands like Pepsi and Snapple, and some schools even contracted with competing companies to get all the options on campus. For example, they’d contract with Coke and Pepsi to get the entire lineup of sodas, sports drinks, and fruit-flavored drinks to bring in maximum revenue.
Now that nobody can deny the obesity crisis, it’s clear that keeping schools stocked with sugary beverages turned out to be a bad idea. However, reversing this mistake has been an ongoing challenge for many years. Even so, some school districts started to take a stand as early as 2000 by banning sodas and other sugary drinks. Those schools were in the minority – until now.
American schools are eliminating sodas from the lunch menu
Schools across the U.S. have been dropping sugary beverages from the lunch menu and vending machines for years, but it never really caught on beyond a small number of communities.
Today, more schools are revisiting the nutritional needs of students, looking at the effects of obesity, and making choices to support a healthier lifestyle.
For example, sugary beverages have been banned from Boston public schools and in 2013, only 4% of Boston students had access to sugary drinks on campus. That doesn’t mean students can’t bring their own sodas from home, but it certainly makes it harder for them to just pop in a dollar bill and get some sugar from a vending machine during every break.
They’re not just eliminating sodas. They’re also looking at ways to improve the food served to students in the cafeteria. In school kitchens, healthy meals are a relatively new thing. For years, school lunch menus have been filled with foods like frozen pizza, French fries, greasy cheese burgers, chicken nuggets, and random foods that look unappetizing. Today, these foods are being replaced with whole fruits and vegetable dishes that kids actually want to eat.
Does eliminating soda make a difference? Yes
It’s a big deal to suddenly take soda out of schools. Sugar can be addicting, and cutting off access to sugar can cause major withdrawal symptoms. Many students aren’t happy about these changes, but neither are their parents or some community members.
Understandably, some people are upset about the soda bans and insist that taking away soda doesn’t do anything when kids are still eating fruit and drinking fruit juice. They hold the opinion that if kids are still consuming sugar from other sources, then banning soda is pointless.
The concern over sugar is understandable, but not all sugars are the same. While fruit juice made with sugar is just as bad as soda, juice made from 100% fruit – despite containing sugar – is different.
Technically, sugar itself isn’t the enemy, as the body requires glucose to function. However, it’s the type of sugar that matters. Some sugar is detrimental to the body, and that’s what schools are aiming to eliminate.
Sugar isn’t “just sugar” to the human body
People who believe sugar is sugar in any form are simply misinformed and it’s the result of sugar manufacturers trying to hang onto their profits. Once people started to realize sodas and other drinks made with refined sugar cause obesity, the sugar industry launched a massive campaign to convince people that “sugar is sugar.”
You may have seen commercials produced by sugar manufacturers that state the human body doesn’t know the difference between sugar from any source. This isn’t true and is only their attempt to maintain their profits. The “sugar is sugar” myth is one of many nutritional myths that are widely believed, yet easily disproven.
Truth be told, the source and type of sugar determines how it impacts the human body. For instance, refined sugar – the type found in soda – gets absorbed and processed quickly, which leads to massive spikes in blood sugar and faster weight gain.
On the other hand, sugar from real fruit absorbs and digests more slowly, which has been scientifically proven to be better for the body. Although, it’s not just better because it’s absorbed more slowly. Fruit has a full nutritional profile with plenty of vitamins and minerals the body needs, which are meant to be eaten.
It’s not recommended to eat large quantities of fruit at once, but the sugar found in fruit is always better for the body than processed sugars.
Sugars have different molecular structures
There’s a molecular difference between fructose and glucose and both types of sugar impact the body differently. It’s important to know which type of sugar you’re consuming, but food labels don’t make that distinction.
Compared to fructose, glucose releases more insulin into the bloodstream, and if a person consumes a high-fat diet along with too much glucose, their cells will be too full of fat to absorb the sugars properly. This leads to high levels of insulin in the blood stream, also known as diabetes. If you’ve heard anyone say to avoid simple sugars, this is why.
Although fruits contain both glucose and fructose, the body absorbs these natural sugars more slowly, and fruits contain valuable minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients that all work together to sustain the body. Refined sugar by itself serves no nutritional purpose in the human body.
Removing soda is a start, but there’s more work to be done
Soda isn’t the only enemy in schools. Schools are still serving junk food like pizza, hot dogs, and other foods that lack nutrition. Vending machines also make it easy for students to buy chips and cookies anytime they want. However, banning soda is a good place to start.
While some schools also ban students from bringing foods like cookies and chips to school, others are only focusing on what the school provides on campus. Either way, American schools are changing for the better and it’s about time.
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