Have you heard the saying “Your child isn’t giving you a hard time, he’s having one.” That one saying is so powerful, it has changed the way I parent and the way I relate to my children. It completely shifts my thought process from being angry at my sons to being empathetic to whatever they are going through. It allows me to peacefully, empathetically, and calmly help them through their situation.
But what if you knew a way to help your child have fewer hard times to begin with? Interested?
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We are all sugar sensitive to varying degrees. But are children more sugar sensitive than we are? Do their tiny systems react differently to sugar than ours?
Are Children More Sugar Sensitive Than Adults?
When I was pregnant with my first son, I went to my doctor’s office to take a 3 hour test for gestational diabetes. You drink this awful sugary syrup stuff (they could have at least made it cake or ice cream…) and then draw your blood every hour. Vampires.
As I waiting in the waiting room for the next blood draw, I was reading a magazine and fell asleep with it across my belly. As soon as I had fallen asleep, my son started kicking and flipping up a storm! He kicked and flipped so hard that my belly looked like a scene out of Alien and the magazine was kicked right off my belly onto the floor. So it was a no brainer that my oldest was acutely sensitive to sugar.
Research suggests that children are more sugar sensitive than adults, and the effects are more pronounced in younger children, according to Dr. Keith Conners, author of Feeding the Brain. This could be related to the fact that the brain grows rapidly in the preschool years, exaggerating the effects of sugar on behavior and learning.
In an interesting study, researchers fed normal preschoolers a high-sugar drink, containing the amount of sugar in the average can of soda, and compared them with children who received a non-sugar drink. The sugar group experienced decreased learning performance and more hyperactivity than the non-sugar group. (source)
Why Are Children More Sugar Sensitive Than Adults?
It is commonly acknowledged that as blood glucose levels fall, there is a compensatory release of adrenaline. When the blood glucose level falls below normal, the resulting situation is called hypoglycemia. Signs and symptoms that accompany this include shakiness, sweating, and altered thinking and behavior.
…this adrenaline release occurs at higher glucose levels in children than it does in adults. In children it occurs at a blood sugar level that would not be considered hypoglycemic. The peak of this adrenaline surge comes about four hours after eating. The authors reason that the problem is not sugar, per se, but highly refined sugars and carbohydrates, which enter the bloodstream quickly and produce more rapid fluctuations in blood glucose levels. (source)
There are receptor sites within the amygdala of the brain for adrenaline. The amygdala is also the part of the brain that regulates aggression and mood. When the amygdala is activated by adrenaline, good judgment is lost and impulse control is significantly reduced. Childrens’ brains do not handle the “fight or flight” impulse with as much grace, shall we say, as adults. Children respond by becoming aggressive, angry, hyperactive, or impulsive. See Kelly Dorfman’s terrific book Cure Your Child with Food: The Hidden Connection Between Nutrition and Childhood Ailments for more on this.
So Now That I Know Children Are Sugar Sensitive, How Do I Help My Child?
So, yes. Children are definitely more sugar sensitive than adults. Children can tolerate less sugar than adults. Sugar can affect the behavior of children and cause them to make bad choices. We know that children react to sugar.
The recommended maximum intake of added sugar per day for preschoolers in 4 teaspoons (16g) of sugar. For children ages 4-8 it’s even less – 3 teaspoons (12g). As they get older it’s a little less because their bodies actually have an increased need for nutrients, so within the proscribed calorie allowance, there is less room for discretionary calories.
This knowledge helps you and your child have fewer hard times. Provide your child a diet as free from added sugar as often as possible. Of course, there are always special occasions and their sugar intake will be increased – and you may see some behavior changes as a result. I know that there is no way to keep my children from eating processed sugar. But I try to follow a 80/20 or 85/15 rule. This means that 80%-85% of the time, we try to eat healthy whole foods without processed products or sugar. The rest of the time, we have some room for special treats and celebrations.
TODAY’S PERSONAL SUGAR ADDICTION CHALLENGE:
Consider your child’s average daily behavior. Do you wish there were fewer moments of aggression, defiance, anger, or hyperactivity? Think about what you can do to change your child’s diet and talk to your child about some new recipes or snacks that you could try together.
SUGAR ADDICTION ACTION ITEM:
Find a new recipe for a delicious looking snack without any added processed sugar. Spend some time with your child making the recipe and discussing how delicious it will be!
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