There are numerous scientific studies and increased evidence that high levels of sugar have negative effects on a child’s brain, from psychological wellbeing to cognitive function.
Refined sugar-based foods or sugary drinks deliver a biochemical charge to our brains that makes us momentarily uplifted or happy. Over the years, we have gotten used to that feeling, which makes us want to slam another sugary cookie or a fizzy drink to get that momentary feeling of elation. But the truth is that that feeling quickly drops off and we are left unfulfilled. Our body craves for nutrients and we keep stuffing it with processed sugary foods. Sugar has an addictive effect on children and adults alike. A study conducted at Yale University found that a mere sight of a milkshake activated the same reward centres of the brain as cocaine does with addicts.
How sugar affects children
Sugar feeds the problematic bacteria in the gut – the ones we want less of. The outer layer of the cells of these problematic bacteria are called LPS (lipopolysaccharides). When this layer sheds, it is released into the bloodstream and can travel anywhere and everywhere in the body. It can cause issues like bad mood, irritability, brain fog, fatigue, autoimmunity, skin problems, etc. This is because the blood is like a freeway that travels everywhere and delivers these issues to all the parts of our body.
Sugar also prevents your immune system from working as effectively as it should. It slows it down and makes it less powerful. Let’s imagine your immune system is a car. If your car requires petrol to make it work and instead you fill it with diesel – it won’t work. It will stall. It’s exactly the same with the immune system – if you feed it with sugar instead of the nutrients it needs, it will fail to work. Having sugar filled foods can stall your immune system for the next 4-6 hours, making it work sub-optimally.
Hidden sources of sugar
Most things contain sugar. We don’t realise this as we eat them on a daily basis. We think that since a certain food is not sweet, then it has to be fine. Foods such as bread, pasta, cereal, rice, waffles, etc. are filled with carbohydrates. Once your body breaks these down, they turn into sugar, immediately increasing sugar levels in your bloodstream. “It’s not fat that makes us fat, it’s sugar that makes us fat.” The more sugar we consume, the more we experience chronic diseases, as well as those incredible up-and-down mood swings.
The instant ‘lift’ we get from sugar is one of the reasons we turn to it at times of celebration, or when we crave comfort or reward. Our body craves for nutrients and we keep stuffing it with processed sugary foods.
- ‘Low-fat’ and ‘diet’ foods often contain extra sugar to help improve their taste and palatability and to add bulk and texture in place of fat.
- Even savoury foods, like ready-made soups and sauces may contain added sugar.
Brown sugar isn’t healthier than white sugar. Because it’s brown, it looks and feels more wholesome. In reality, brown sugar is white sugar with molasses added to it for colour and flavour, but the amount of molasses doesn’t result in any extra nutrients per serving.
Things we can do to prevent our children from overeating refined sugary foods
1. FEED THEM FOODS THAT ARE REAL
Feeding your children a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, beans and legumes ensures that their developing microbiome has lots of nourishment. That is because these foods feed the microbes and allow them to grow. It is important to try and feed them a diverse range of plant foods as different foods will feed different species of bacteria in the gut. The better the diversity of foods, the more diverse the bacteria and the better it can support their health – sneaking different foods onto their plate is a great way to do this!
2. FEED THEM FOODS THAT ARE HIGH IN FIBRE
Fibre is also important for feeding our microbes with what’s known as prebiotics. Feed your children foods that are high in fibre – we should be aiming for a minimum of 15 grams of fibre per day, which is the government’s daily recommended amount. Our gut uses this fibre to feed the good bacteria, allowing them to grow. Studies have shown that as we feed the good microbes, we also lower the pH level of the gut and start to naturally crowd out problematic bacteria.
3. FEED THEM RIGHT SNACKS
Look for snacks that contain protein, fat and fibre. For example:
- Hummus and vegetables
- Banana with some nuts and seeds
- Foods and fruits high in superfoods and antioxidants. SO PERF cold pressed juices and prebiotic and probiotic bars for kids are loaded with superfoods and antioxidants.
- SO PERF bars – contain fibre, protein, Omega 3, prebiotics and probiotics as well as absolutely no added sugar and some of the lowest naturally occurring sugar levels.