We are constantly warned to limit sugar in our children’s diets and to read labels carefully, and for good cause.
There are very few people who aren’t alarmed by recent reviews of the average child’s diet. Doctors are concerned by the growing number of diseases and illnesses manifesting themselves in adolescents. Nutritionists are worried by both the lack of nutrients and the excess of sugars and artificial additives in kids’ diets. Parents are struggling with children who are more prone to contracting illnesses and also suffer from attention-deficit disorders which may lead to poor grades. Teachers are overwhelmed by the number of students with ADHD who can’t focus and by those with sicknesses that keep them home and out of the classroom.
So how do we define “sugars”? Is there a safe amount to consume, and how do sugars affect our children?
In most instances, “sugars” should be defined as any refined sweetener not occurring in complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (AskDrSears.com, n.d.). According to Elizabeth Donahue, a clinical dietitian in a pediatric special-needs clinic, “Sugars have many names on the food label, including glucose, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, molasses and sucrose. All of these sugars vary in form, use and source, but have the same negative effects on children” (n.d.).
Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are also a potential health danger for children and should be viewed with skepticism even though they are “calorie-free,” as studies show inconclusive results regarding their safety (Harvard School of Public Health, n.d.). If nothing else, artificial sweeteners train children’s taste buds to enjoy sweeter-than-normal flavors without adding any nutritional value to kids’ diets.
“So how much is too much?” you might ask.
According to an NBC news report, “American children consume a whopping 34 teaspoons of sugar per day. Although there is no recommended amount of sugar that children should consume, this amount far exceeds the American Heart
Association’s guidelines for adults of 6 to 9 teaspoons per day” (as cited in Donahue, n.d.).
Let’s be clear. It is nearly impossible to diagnose an “overdose” of sugar, since it is not a dietary necessity and has no recommended consumption level. It is, however, safest to avoid refined sweeteners as much as possible, especially if you have a child that already tends to struggle to stay healthy or to focus at school.
As mentioned above, an “overdose” of sugar can’t be diagnosed. Still, research has shown that the sugar equivalent contained in about 2.5 cans of soda (100 grams) causes a 40% decrease in the ability of the body’s white blood cells to kill germs (AskDrSears.com, n.d.). Considering how much refined sugar many “kid foods” contain AND how many illnesses children are exposed to on a daily basis, this is a frightening stat.
Moreover, the same research revealed that the immune-suppressing effect began as soon as 30 minutes after consumption and lasted up to five hours. So not only is there an immediate effect in the body, but the long-term effects could be even more drastic when you consider that kids often consume additional “doses” of sugar long before the last dose had left their systems.
Excess sugar consumption leads not only to immediate immune suppression, but also to lifetime health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Research has shown that even drinking sugary drinks increases the risk of developing chronic diseases (Keifer, 2012).
Basically, feeding a child sugar on more than just special occasions sets them up for failure, triggering the body to storefat, destabilizing the blood sugar, and leading to a host of health issues stemming from poor metabolic function.
Perhaps the most unique detrimental effect of sugar consumption that children reap is learning obstacles. While ADHD and similar conditions can’t conclusively be linked to sugar consumption, the research is still compelling.
According to Dr. Keith Conners, author of Feeding the Brain, children are not only more sensitive to sugar than adults, but also the effects could be more pronounced due to the rapid growth of the brain during the preschool developmental phase (as cited in AskDrSears.com, n.d.). In turn, behavior and learning are both altered, leading to or intensifying ADHD symptoms. Some studies have even shown that hypersensitive kids react more strongly to sugar than normally active kids and havepotentially more aggressive behaviors as a result of sugar consumption (AskDrSears.com).
So is sugar the villain that it is made out to be?
Perhaps not in small doses on occasion, but regular consumption of the refined versions seems not worth the addicting reward. Parents already know what monumental effort goes into keeping kids healthy, safe, and happy. Adding sugar to the mix makes an uphill battle just that much more challenging.
AskDrSears.com. (n.d.). Harmful effects of excess sugar. Retrieved from http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feeding-eating/family-nutrition/sugar/harmful-effects-excess-sugar.
Donahue, Elizabeth. (n.d.). Negative effects of refined sugar in children. Healthy Eating by Demand Media. Retrieved from http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/negative-effects-refined-sugar-children-7164.html.
Harvard School of Public Health. (n.d.). Artificial sweeteners. The President and Fellows of Harvard College online. Retrieved from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/artificial-sweeteners/.
Keifer, Dale. (2012, Jan.18). The ‘ADHD’ diet: what works and what doesn’t. Healthline.com. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/adhd-diet#1.
Roth, Erica. (2013, June 4). ADHD in children: what’s the latest?. Healthline.com. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/adhd-children-whats-latest.
Have you tried opting for more natural sugars in your child’s diet? Let us know in the comments section below! Don’t forget to share this article with your friends and family!