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Children, Moods and Sugar by June Kaminski, MSN
Having a "sweet tooth" is considered a problem for many
reasons. Sugars have been linked with health risks as
varied as weight gain, diabetes and bizarre behavior.
Sugars are also recognized as one of the building blocks of
life. There are both simple or complex sugars. All complex
sugars are broken down in the body into simple sugars, and
used for a number of different metabolic and nutritional
tasks. There is no doubt about it, sugars are an important
part of people's diets. It's just a question of how much,
what kind and whether there are health risks from eating
The most common sugars are glucose, sucrose, lactose,
fructose and maltose. These can be found in foods as
diverse as vegetables, fruits, grains, refined foods,
milk and their products. We also tend to eat
concentrated sugar in white or brown sugar, honey,
molasses, and corn, maple or other syrups.
Linked to Hyperactivity?
In recent years, sugar has been linked with hyperactivity
in children. Hyperactivity is seen as restlessness,
irritability, aggressiveness, poor sleeping and short
attention spans. Some studies do seem to suggest this,
while others refute the claim. Researchers for the US FDA
found that sugars were important for brain activity and
could even calm children.
This is not to say that parents should give their child a
candy bar to calm down. But a natural sugar source such as
a sun-ripened piece of fruit, or wholesome grain product
could be just what they need to lose their 'edgy' feeling
Often, aggressive or "hyper" behavior is a sign of low
blood sugar. Carbohydrates, including sugars are our
bodies' main source of energy. Naturally occurring sugars
are vital for our health. What is not vital is the
consumption of highly processed foods that contain large
amounts of added sugars and other additives.
When only refined processed sugars are eaten, the blood
glucose tends to fall more quickly after a meal. As a
result, our adrenaline kicks in to compensate. People who
are sensitive to lowered blood sugar may show a tendency
towards shakiness, and nervous, erratic behavior. They
are irritable until the crisis is met. In other words,
until they restore their sugar supply.
If natural sources of sugar are eaten, this crisis is
less likely to happen. The blood glucose stays more stable
until the next meal. Children are more susceptible to
falling blood sugars than adults are. Thus they need
high quality, natural foods in their diets even more.
Sugar as a Comforter
It is quite common for food to be seen as a way to make
us feel better. For children and adults alike, the more
coping skills we have to deal with distress and moody
feelings, the less likely that food will be used as a
source of comfort. Carbohydrates are especially soothing,
since they help the brain to receive tryptophan and
convert it to serotonin, a brain chemical that makes us
feel sleepy and comforted.
The more rapidly the sugar in food is absorbed, the faster
it raises the serotonin which improves the mood. Glucose
and sucrose, common in candies and refined foods are
the most rapidly absorbed sugars, while fructose is the
slowest. Fructose, abundant in ripe fruit is therefore the
best choice for long-lasting comfort and calming.
Nutritious conscious child experts suggest that parents
help their children learn to self-quiet themselves by
giving them ample soothing and comfort in loving ways. To
keep their sugar levels in balance, give plenty of fresh
fruit, whole grain baked (versus fried) products, and
keep the diet as natural and unrefined as possible. Not
only for their moods, but their general growth and
development as well. Sugar is important, but keep it
as simple and natural as possible. Your child will thank
you for it!
The Relationship between Sugar and Children's Behavior
at Dr. Greene's Housecalls, gives some brief but sound
advice on feeding your child sugar, at:
Sugar n' Spice and Everything Nice
by Dr. Nancy Appleton
offers guidelines for parents to watch the amount of
refined sugars and other processed foods in their children's
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