How does sugar affect my kids?

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Avoid the sugar rush! Learn how sugar can affect your kid.

Have you ever asked yourself the question “how does sugar affect my kids?”. An occasional sweet treat is unlikely to be harmful.  But in a world where sweet foods are literally everywhere, sugar has become a staple in many kids’ daily diet, increasing their risks for both short-term and long term complications. How do you deal with that as a parent? Read on for tips.

Sugar: The ugly truth

Don’t just tell your kid ‘Sugar is bad for you!’ Instead, empower your little one to make healthier choices by explaining how excessive sugar consumption can seriously impact health as follows:

Excessive weight gain: Sugary foods are often highly processed empty-calorie foods. This means they pack lots of calories but almost no nutrients or fiber. This makes it really easy to overindulge in sweet stuff, not only because sugary treats are yummy but also because they don’t provide a satiety effect, or make your kids full. And, of course, these empty calories add up. And guess how the body stores them? Right — as body flab!

how does sugar affect my kids

Too much sugar can cause obesity and heart problems

Increased risks of diabetes: Sugar doesn’t cause diabetes but eating too many sweet foods can lead to excessive visceral fat, the type of fat that has been associated with insulin resistance and diabetes.

Impaired cardiovascular health: A high sugar (and refined carbohydrates) intake increases triglyceride levels, a known risk factor for heart disease.

Malnutrition: Kids who fill up on empty calories are more susceptible to miss out on essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that could be provided by a nutrient-dense meal. This could lead to nutrient deficiencies and developmental delays.

Tooth decay: Encourage your child to brush her/his teeth after eating any sweet food. Sugar feeds bacteria that cause painful cavities.

how does sugar affect my kids

Too much sugar in your kid’s diet can lead to a range of health issues.

Hyperactivity: A sugar-coated problem?

Although research has never shown a connection between sugar consumption and hyperactivity, not all kids have the same tolerance to sugar. In my practice, I regularly see kids faring way better when they quit their usual high-sugar diet.

And previous research has linked:

  • High sugar consumption for breakfast to a severe decline in attention span.
  • High intakes of sugar-containing soft drinks to mental distress, hyperactivity, and conduct problems among teenagers.
  • Food additives —like tartrazine, Red 3 and 40, Blue 1 and 2, Green 3 and Orange B and benzoate, often found in sugar-laden foods — to behavioral issues.
how does sugar affect my kids

Excess sugar intake can lead to hyperactivity and other behavioural issues

So, if your kid has behavioral or learning difficulties, wouldn’t it be logical to limit sugar intake for a while to see if things improve?

Can sugar cause addiction?

Yes, it is possible that sugar triggers an addictive process in the brain. Brain scans show that dopamine and opioids are released when sugar is consumed. In sugar-sensitive people, this could lead to ‘sugar dependence’.

Are you being too sweet?

Here are some guidelines regarding the amount of added sugar considered acceptable for a healthy diet.

  • Below two years old: Avoid foods containing added sugar— this will help curb your child’s innate sweet tooth.
  • Two to eight years old: Not more than 3 teaspoons of added sugar.
  • Eight to 18 years old: Not more than 5 to 8 teaspoons of added sugar.

Tips to cut down your child’s sugar intake:

  • Substitute water for sugary drinks like sodas, sport drinks, cordials or fruit juices.
  • Stick to unflavored milk or a fresh fruit smoothie.
  • Serve oatmeal mixed with fresh fruits for breakfast instead of sugar laden kids’ cereals or mix your child’s less healthy cereals with some whole bran cereals.
  • Eat fresh, wholesome food together as a family. Encourage your child to get involved in preparing healthy food that doesn’t need heaps of sugar added to it.
how does sugar affect my kids

There are many ways to get your child to eat less sugar!

  • Read food labels and avoid foods that include sugar or high fructose corn syrup as one of their first three ingredients.
  • Limit processed foods such as granola bars, cookies, candies, jams, syrups, and canned fruit. Assure your kids they can have more some other time.
  • Make naturally sweet foods like fruits easily available in your kitchen — this way, the child is more likely to grab and eat.
  • Never use food or sweets as a reward.

If you have any concerns about your child’s diet, do seek the opinion of your paediatrician who will be able to recommend an appropriate health-care professional to help your child.

This article is written by Shariah Hussenbocus.  

Also read: 5 healthy cooking methods for kids

References:

Avena, NM, Rada, P, Hoebel, BG. (2008) Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 32(1), 20-39.

Babey SH, Jones M, Yu H, Goldstein H. (2009) Bubbling over: soda consumption and its link to obesity in California. Policy Brief UCLA Cent Health Policy Res. (PB2009-5):1-8.

Bray GA, Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM. (2004) Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. Am J Clin Nutr. 79(4):537-543.

Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. (2009) Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 120(11):1011-1020.

Lien, L, Lien, N, Heyerdahl, S, Thoresen, M, Bjertness, E. (2006). Consumption of Soft Drinks and Hyperactivity, Mental Distress, and Conduct Problems Among Adolescents in Oslo, Norway. American Journal of Public Health 96(10), 1815–1820.

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