It’s not uncommon to hear adults use sugar as a reward to children for good behaviour. A toddler gets a little treat after each time they successfully use the potty. A grandparent gives their grandchild candy for being such a good helper tidying up. A teacher gives out candy to each student who answers a pop quiz question correctly. A parent takes their child for ice cream after winning a soccer game. It might seem harmless and enjoyable at the time, but is all this sugar impacting your child’s health?
According to the American Heart Association, children between the ages of 2 to 18 should be having less than 6 teaspoons (25g) of added sugar daily.
To put this into context, 1 can (330 mL) of Coca-Cola contains 35 grams of sugar, a bottle (500 mL) of Nestea iced tea contains 43 grams of sugar, 2 tbsp. of ketchup contains 8 grams of sugar, 4 store-bought chocolate chip cookies contain 24 grams of sugar, and a pack of Dare Bear Paws contains 14 grams of sugar.
Aside from the fact that it has no nutritional benefit whatsoever, here are 5 reasons why too much sugar can impact your child’s physical and mental health:
Reason #1: Increased consumption of sugar can contribute to childhood obesity and insulin resistance. When blood sugar is elevated after consuming a sugary food, insulin is released by the body to bring the blood sugar back down to normal levels. However, when too much sugar is consumed, over time, the body’s insulin becomes less sensitive to high blood sugar levels and must secrete more insulin than before in order to bring the blood sugar levels back down to normal again. This can lead to a pre-diabetic state (“metabolic syndrome”) and potentially the development of diabetes. Furthermore, if not needed right away for exercise or movement, excess sugar in the blood is stored as body fat which contributes to weight gain.
Reason #2: Foods with refined carbohydrates can quickly spike the blood sugar leading to a boost of energy, but quickly followed by a drop in energy (a phenomenon called reactive hypoglycemia). This is because refined carbohydrates are digested and absorbed much faster than complex carbohydrates by the body. When a child eats a large amount of refined carbs, their body responds by secreting insulin to lower their blood sugar…and their body may continue to release insulin even after they’re done eating, causing the blood sugar to drop below normal levels resulting in fatigue, “foggy, brain”, lack of concentration, and irritability.
Reason #3: Sugar can contribute toward an imbalance of the good bacteria in the gut, a condition called dysbiosis. Disrupting this balance of the intestinal microbiome may increase a child’s susceptibility to inflammatory disease, weakened immune system, and neurological conditions such as anxiety and ADHD.
Reason #4: Having a sugary dessert after lunch and dinner can condition the body to feel insatiated unless they have a “sweet” finish to their meal. High sugar foods can change the palate so that a healthy food with natural sweetness like fruit becomes less desirable. Also, if a child knows that dessert is being served afterwards, they may not eat all their nutrient-dense meal in order to leave room for their nutrient-empty dessert.
Reason #5: Giving kids sugar to make them feel better when they are upset or rewarding them with sugar for good behaviour may lead to a tendency to turn to sweets for comfort in adulthood during stressful times. A child develops resilience by learning to deal with stress and anxiety if it is modelled to them in a healthy and positive way. Not only can using sugary treats as positive reinforcement negatively impact the mental growth process kids need to survive and thrive as adults, but it may also contribute to forming eating disorders and addictions.
Want some help with steering your kids towards eating healthier, more nutrient-dense foods? Feel free to book here, I would love to meet them!
Be well and happy,
Ref: American Heart Association (https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/sugar-recommendation-healthy-kids-and-teens-infographic)
Brown K, D DeCoffe, E Molcan, et al. Diet-Induced Dysbiosis of the Intestinal Microbiota and the Effects on Immunity and Disease. Nutrients. 2012 Aug; 4(8): 1095-1119.
Cenit M, Y Sanz, P Codoner-Franch. Influence of gut microbiota on neuropsychiatric disorders. World J Gastroenterol. 2017 Aug 14; 23(30): 5486-5498.