You Need To Know How Sugar Affects Children’s Brains
How sugar affects children’s brains is important to know as sugar is everywhere we turn and it’s available 24/7.
There are not many places we can go without temptation from the sights and smells of ice cream, cupcakes or other treats. Even in the middle of the night, it’s quick and easy to pass by a drive-thru and get your donut, muffin, or bagel fix.
Sugar is taking a devastating toll on our children’s health. Sugar hijacks the brain. When sugar hits the reward center of the brain it acts in the same way a drug does: it releases a surge of dopamine that makes us feel good initially, but that “lift” doesn’t last. Over time we need more and more sugar to get that same boost. This starts the cycle of cravings, and in vulnerable children, addictions are often formed.
When sugar hits the reward center of the brain it acts in the same way a drug does: it releases a surge of dopamine that makes us feel good initially, but that “lift” doesn’t last. Over time we need more and more sugar to get that same boost.
A study on mice, published in the journal Neuroscience, revealed that a high-sugar diet leads to changes in gut bacteria that are related to a significant loss of cognitive flexibility, which is a measure of your brain’s ability to adapt to changing situations.2 Impairments in both long-term and short-term memory were also noted.3 After four weeks of consuming excess amounts of sugar, the mice performed poorly on a variety of tests related to mental and physical function when compared to mice fed a normal diet.
Another disadvantage of giving your child a high sugar meal or snack is the steep rise in blood sugar, which leaves children hyperactive, unfocused and fidgety. Shortly after (within an hour or two), blood sugar will drop, leaving children hungry, weak, tired, and searching for the next boost of sugar. Also linked to sugar consumption is obesity and diabetes, which was once unheard of or at least rare in children, but is becoming commonplace today in our sugarcoated society.
[In mice] a high-sugar diet leads to changes in gut bacteria that are related to a significant loss of cognitive flexibility, which is a measure of your brain’s ability to adapt to changing situations.
It’s not just our minds at risk:
With the proliferation of sugar rich foods in the market, the rates of obesity and diabetes in children are reaching unprecedented levels. A piece of fruit, or even a treat like ice cream, isn’t going to cause too much trouble if it is really just a treat and not something that you overindulge in. However, most of us are overindulging – and that’s putting it mildly.
Just take a look at the sugar consumption trends of the past 300 years:1
- In 1700, the average person consumed about 4 pounds of sugar per year.
- In 1800, the average person consumed about 18 pounds of sugar per year.
- In 1900, individual consumption had risen to 90 pounds of sugar per year.
- In 2009, more than 50 percent of all Americans consumed one-half pound of sugar PER DAY—translating to a whopping 180 pounds of sugar per year!
Sugar is not found only in the junk food where we expect it.
It’s found in many of the foods we give our children that we think or are told are “healthy.” Some of the more common ones are:
- Yogurt/frozen yogurt
- Sauces like BBQ, Ketchup, tomato or pizza sauce
- Salad dressing
- Canned/packaged fruit
- Cereal (the “healthy” ones)
- Cheese spread
- Infant formula
- Nutrition drinks/smoothies
In 2009, more than 50 percent of all Americans consumed one-half pound of sugar PER DAY—translating to a whopping 180 pounds of sugar per year!
How do we cut back on sugar?
One way to reduce sugar in our children’s diets is to avoid processed and refined snacks and meals that are loaded with the very worst kinds of added sugar: fructose, a sugar that’s cheaper and sweeter than cane sugar. Serve home-cooked meals whenever possible. Bake your own treats like muffins and cookies with healthier sugar options like raw honey, dates, or organic cane sugar (see my previous posts on making healthy desserts!).
Try this recipe for chocolate icing:
- 1 avocado
- 1⁄4 cup of coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon of raw cacao powder
- 1 cup pitted dates
- Blend in a food processor.
Read labels on any packaged food and choose cane sugar over fructose. Use these sweets as treats only, and save them for a special occasion or the weekend to drastically reduce the amount of sugar your children consume.
Watch this amazing video called Sugar is Killing Us and use its information to help educate your children on the dangers of sugar consumption.
Halloween is around the corner, which means a surge of sugar, which also means lowered immune system function, (for up to 6 hours after sugar consumption) which leads to more sickness.
Quick tips for how to handle the onslaught of treats:
- Let them choose some favorites.
- Throw or give the rest away.
- Keep the favorites in a safe place.
- Teach your children to eat them slowly, taking out one treat a week.
As hard as it is now to keep your kids away from all the sugar that surrounds them, it only gets harder as they get older and become more dependent on it. Healthy children grow into healthy adults.
Let’s reduce sugar now while they are young to ensure optimal brain function and to prevent disease, obesity, and addiction problems in the future!