During our weeklong discussions on Pongal celebrations, the students touched on the foods and sweets that are part of the celebrations. They had had several sweet treats during the New Year Celebrations, and now they were excited about the next round of sweets. That got us thinking about how much sugar we consume regularly and during festive days.
When I came home and did some research, I found some startling facts.
Did you know that sugar was first crystallized in India in 320 BCE? Before that, people chewed on the sugarcane stalk to drink the juice. We do that even now, don’t we? Sugar produced in India is obtained from sugarcane. The hot and humid tropical climate is ideal for year-round sugarcane cultivation.
Here’s what struck me:
India is one of the top 5 producers of sugar in the world. In 2014-2015, India was the second largest producer of sugar, at 17% of the total sugar production in the world. Guess what? Most of the sugar we produce is consumed within the country, and only a portion of it is exported to other countries. India was the fourth largest exporter, accounting for 4.7% of the world’s sugar export in the same year.
Is it any wonder that diabetes is on the rise in India?
So what do we do with all that sugar?
In this activity students kept a record of the jaggery and sugar-sweetened products that they consumed every day for a week to track their sugar intake. (If you do this with older students you can have them keep a record of the quantity as well.)
The students first made a list of everything they ate or drank throughout the week. Together, we identified the sweetened foods and drinks and made a checklist. The students took it home and kept track of every sweetened food or drink they had that week.
Tracking sugar intake with the checklist gave us an idea of the kids’ eating patterns.
All drinks on the list had added sugar. The students all reported that they take one to two teaspoons of sugar in their milk-based drinks. The flavored milk from Aavin was very popular.
Our students ate most of the sweets during snack time at, and after school (before dinner). They brought biscuits, chocolates, and traditional Indian sweets in their snack box. When the students went out with their families over the weekend, they had more opportunities to drink aerated drinks and other dessert foods.
With this information, the children discussed making healthy choices and eating sweets in limited portions. One of the solutions they came up with was to substitute the cookies and biscuits with fruits and some dry nuts.
Here’s a challenge for you grown-ups reading this article. Can you keep track of what you eat for a week?