Wholesome Child : Wholesome Child full
81 80 Sugar and hyperactivity: is there a link? Eating too much sugar can create a ’sugar low’ following a situation, like a birthday party, where blood sugar levels rise too high. It is commonly acknowledged that as blood sugar levels fall, the body responds by producing a large amount of insulin and there is a compensatory release of adrenaline. When blood sugar levels drop too quickly, some children may feel shaky and this might alter their thinking and behaviour. Contrary to popular belief, sugar may not be the only culprit behind sudden bursts of hyperactivity in children a.k .a the sugar rush (or the post-birthday party meltdowns that invariably follow). Scientists started looking into this in earnest in the 1970s after an American allergist, Benjamin Feingold, advocated the removal of food additives to treat hyperactivity in children. More recent research would suggest that Feingold was onto something. It seems that artificial colours, flavours and preservatives packed into the sugary foods are a contributing factor to hyperactivity. One famous study into groups of three-year-olds found that artificial food colouring (particularly red, yellow and orange), and the preservative sodium benzoate, made children more likely to lack concentration, lose their temper, interrupt others and struggle to get to sleep. Foods to avoid include – no surprises here – many popular children’s foods, like confectionery, soft drinks, cordials, flavoured milk, colourful sprinkles and frosting on cakes and biscuits. The bottom line is to treat sugar as a ’sometimes’ food and make it a normal part of festive occasions, but use healthy sweeteners like those suggested in this book and avoid food colourings and other additives (learn more about this on page 258). Make your own cakes and biscuits without using artificial food colouring whenever possible (see our recipe for Natural Rainbow Cake on page 281). If you’re buying packaged food, choose foods containing ’natural colours’ made from fruit, vegetables and spices like beetroot, carrot, paprika and turmeric. Sugar’s effect on children’s guts More and more research is emerging to point to a healthy gut, one with flourishing beneficial bacteria, being the cornerstone of our children’s health. Many conditions such as ADHD, autism, allergies and even obesity are being attributed to a disturbance in the microbiome-gut-brain axis (the biochemical signaling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system). Proper development of this critical relationship during infancy and childhood is vital for long-term health. As our children’s systems are still developing they are extremely vulnerable to toxins in their environment. Their gastrointestinal tract provides vital functions for immunity and by protecting and maintaining healthy gut flora you ensure the integrity of your child’s immune system. When there are changes to the microflora in your child’s gut through antibiotic use or an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria this can change the balance of the flora and deplete the beneficial bacteria. Sugary foods create the perfect environment for harmful bacteria to flourish as well as for yeast overgrowth. When sugar causes dysbiosis (microbial imbalance) it can lead to leaky gut syndrome where toxins enter into the bloodstream and can cause a range of inflammatory conditions When we think about sugar, it’s important to understand the overall impact it has on our children’s health. Even if there is no immediate impact, we can be certain that overconsumption is detrimental to their long-term health. . goal 2: Introduce structure I was inspired to specialise in early childhood nutrition after I joined a mothers’ group with my then six-month-old son and saw other unsuspecting mothers introducing their six- month-old babies to squeezie yoghurts, which contained added sugar. I realised then that a child’s journey to junk food begins with the first teething rusk, yoghurt or sweetened porridge. Babies have a natural predisposition for sweet foods and if we introduce them to these from the get-go, we inhibit their ability to build up and enjoy a taste for other flavours. Often, this desire for sweet food grows and leads to constant snacking and cravings. Consequently, when children get used to eating outside of mealtimes, their intake of nutritious food decreases at meals. Snacking is important so that kids can keep their energy up, but the ideal eating structure is three meals and two snacks per day with an extra snack added in on days when a child does sport. Often, however, snacking involves convenience foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat. Like adults, children experience these snacks as moreish and ultimately addictive. A recent study found that high-calorie snacking is a major cause of childhood obesity. Chips, lollies and other snack foods account for up to 27% of the daily caloric intake for children, age 2 to 18, according to findings by researchers at the University of North Carolina. Once we begin to reduce the amount of sugar in our children’s diets, we need to ensure that we replace it with delicious, blood stabilising foods offered at a consistent time each day to help ensure they do not crave more sugar. There’s no need to quit sugar outright. Instead transition from processed, refined sugar snacks to healthier homemade ones. Serving a healthy snack to a child is a great way to fill in the nutritional ’gaps’ that may occur at mealtimes. To do this, it’s important to create a structure for them as this helps their bodies know when to expect food. Structure also assists parents or caregivers to plan ahead. One of the main contributing factors to the overconsumption of sugary foods is a reliance on convenience food. If you’re rushing to pick up your child from school and have forgotten to bring a healthy snack, once they’re in the car and nagging for food it’s only human to reach for something convenient like an ice-cream while you’re filling up with petrol. The problem is that the resulting blood sugar dip once they get home will lead to more nagging for sugary food. Create structure and ensure that your child knows to expect a nutritious snack when they get home from school that will keep them satisfied until dinner. If you’re on the run after school to sports or other lessons, with a structure in place, you will be able to prepare ahead of time by batch cooking so you always have nutritious after school snacks. If dinner is delayed and your child is genuinely hungry, offer a part of the dinner meal early if ready. Otherwise, a raw veggie platter with dips is a good idea. step 2: reduce sugar DO... DON’T... make your own food as often as you can, beginning with the first purees or finger foods. offer too many commercially prepared foods. It’s impossible to compete with processed foods that contain sugar and salt (two of the most highly addictive tastes that can interfere with children getting used to natural foods). choose foods in their natural state that have been minimally processed. go for low-fat processed foods. They’re usually loaded with added sugars to round out the taste. teach children that sweet treats are ’sometimes’ foods and limit when they can expect to eat them and in what portions. make sugar the ’bad’ guy. The more we villainise sugar or deny our children foods which they see their friends eating, the more they will want it. aim to remove sugar from staples like bread and crackers by making sure they contain no hidden sugars. buy products that are marketed as being healthy without first checking the ingredients list. keep confectionary and sweet treats out of the home. Instead prepare healthy versions of muffins and snacks for times when your child wants something sweet at home or for the school lunch box and after sports. deny sweet treats when your child is with other children who are indulging, such as at birthday parties or on other special occasions. See our birthday party hacks to minimise the damage on page 70. replace refined sugar with unrefined alternatives. use more of these healthy sweeteners than the recipe calls for. While they offer more nutrition, they still have the same calories as refined sugar. Did you know? Medjool dates can be used to sweeten homemade muffins and cakes in place of sugar, plus they contain protein, fibre and potassium. Did you know? A recent landmark study in the US of more than 3000 infants and toddlers found that close to half of seven- to eight- month-olds are already consuming sugar-sweetened snacks, sodas and fruit drinks, a percentage that increases dramatic ally with age. Consider this... A recent study supports the idea that a breakfast with a lower sugar load may improve short-term memory and attention span at school. Oatmeal, wholegrain pancakes, eggs and wholegrain toast – foods that contain fibre instead of loads of refined sugar should keep adrenaline levels more constant.