Health & Wellness

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The harmful affect of sugar on your children’s health.

When it comes to consumption and the effects of sugar on our children’s health, I often hear things like:

  • All things in moderation….
  • A little bit won’t hurt…
  • It’s fuel for the brain…
  • Children love it and it makes them happy

All justifications for consuming sugar in some amount. The question is: should sugar ever be consumed and if so, in what amount?

Its summertime here in the UK and automatically we think seaside, ice cream, ice polls, lollies, cold fizzy drinks and fruit juices – especially on a hot summers day. We load up our freezers and cupboard with all sorts for our kids as treats to help us get through the long six weeks of summer school holiday.

At our children’s birthday parties and family get together, we have on hand, a range of sweets, chocolate, cakes, biscuits and the list goes on, for our kids to help themselves to, without no control of much sugar they consume.

Or it’s the end of term and so we like to reward our children for the hard work they done during the school year – so what do we choose for a gift? Chocolates, our favourites. Guilty? Yes, Me!! I would have been the first to put my hands up a year or two ago, but not anymore. I have experienced the horrid effects that sugar has on my children’s skin health and their behaviour. Sugar also had adverse effects on my own health too. So in our house sugar is a ban substance in our family’s cooking and baking. We use natural sugars like coconut palm sugar, natural sugar from, fruits and vegetables, like apple, pear, carrots and beetroot are my favourites, but of course there are others. Or we simply don’t use any at all in some foods.

The Effects of Sugar…

The Truth About Sugar – New BBC Documentary 2015

Sugar exists in many forms besides just the white powdered (usually GMO) beet sugar we can pick up at the supermarket. There are effects of sugar in all of its forms, including corn syrup, honey, and maple syrup and we are consuming more of it now than ever before.

Most of us eat too much sugar and recent recommendations by Change4life advise us to reduce the amount of ‘free sugars’ we eat. But what exactly does this mean? ‘Free sugars’ are any sugars that are added to food or drinks, or present naturally in unsweetened fruit juices, honey or syrups. It does not include natural sugar found in fruits, vegetables and milk. We should be eating a maximum of 5% of our daily calories from added sugars. However, the most recent UK survey showed that our kids are getting almost 12-16% of their daily calories from added sugar. Now that’s a lot for my imagination.

I often hear the argument that sugar is ok in moderation and that eliminating any “food group” is dangerous. Certainly, avoiding an actual macronutrient category completely (carbohydrate, protein or fat) would be problematic, but sugar in itself is not a food group. Though sugar in some form is naturally present in many foods, by itself, it contains:

  • no nutrients
  • no protein
  • no healthy fats
  • no enzymes

Just empty and quickly digested calories that actually pull minerals from the body during digestion. It creates a hormone cascade when consumed that starts a positive feedback loop in the body to encourage more consumption – we know it as sugar cravings. In a time when food was scarce and needed to be contained in large amounts in the summer when available to survive the winter, this was a good thing. In today’s world of constant access to processed foods, this natural biological purpose highlights one of the negative effects of sugar. Here’s why:

“Dr. David Reuben, author of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Nutrition says, “white refined sugar-is not a food. It is a pure chemical extracted from plant sources, purer in fact than cocaine, which it resembles in many ways. Its true name is sucrose and its chemical formula is C12H22O11. It has 12 carbon atoms, 22 hydrogen atoms, 11 oxygen atoms, and absolutely nothing else to offer.” …The chemical formula for cocaine is C17H21NO4. Sugar’s formula again is C12H22O11. For all practical purposes, the difference is that sugar is missing the “N”, or nitrogen atom.”

It was reported in the Daily Mail online, 20 August 2015, that tooth decay is the leading cause of hospital admissions in primary school children. A staggering 500 children, aged five to nine, are admitted to hospital every week suffering from tooth problems.

But did you know that sugar not only causes tooth decay in children – the largest hospital admission among children in the UK. But also hyperactivity and an increase risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes according to health experts. And a whole host of other chronic— albeit avoidable —health problems too. Chronic conditions like cold, cough, allergies and some cancers. And other health conditions that sugars contributes to, according to health exports for women are: Candida and yeast overgrowth in young women and even children.

One of the most common effects sugar can have on children are cold-like symptoms, said Dr. Julie L. Wei, a paediatric otolaryngologist at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, Fla. Wei said many of her patients complain of chronic runny noses, excessive mucus, cough and symptoms of sinus infections.

Some children are even diagnosed with allergies, without having any formal testing. They’re prescribed medication but their symptoms may actually be due to too much sugar. That’s what we found with our children – my five year old son is super sensitive to sugar.

“If we get rid of the symptoms, children won’t need the medicine,” Wei said.

Sugar can also cause croup and acid reflux. Some children even have recurrent episodes of what looks like croup. These children go to bed seemingly healthy, but wake up during the night with a barking cough and trouble breathing.

After she asked about their habits, Wei found that most of these children had a habit of drinking chocolate milk throughout the day. The combination of dairy and sugar takes longer to digest and is highly acidic. This means that food comes back up through the oesophagus, touches the vocal cords and causes a laryngospasm.

“It’s like a charley horse of your voice box,” Wei said.

Often times, children diagnosed with acid reflux are given over-the-counter medications that block the natural stomach secretion of acid and mask symptoms.

“We’re not having a whole generation of children who have some rare disease that they’re making more acid than before,” Wei said. “They are consuming 10 times more acid every single day than they used to.”

Sugar weakened immunity. The body’s micro biome is made up of trillions of good bacteria that digest food, produce vitamins and protect it from germs and disease. But when kids consume too much sugar, it can alter the balance between good and bad bacteria and weaken their immune systems, Wei said. So although your children may still get frequent colds, their symptoms may be reduced if their sugar intake is reduced as well.

Sugar can cause your child to develop a poor diet. Children who snub fruits, vegetables and other healthy fare may not be picky eaters after all. They might just be loading up on too much sugar which can cause stomach-aches and poor appetite.

Research shows that sugar sours behaviour, attention, and learning in children. Studies of the effects of sugar on children’s behaviour are as wildly contradictory as a sugar-crazed four-year-old after a birthday party, but the general consensus is that some children and adults are sugar-sensitive, meaning their behaviour, attention span, and learning ability deteriorate in proportion to the amount of junk sugar they consume.

Sugar promotes sugar highs. Some persons are more sugar sensitive than others, and children may be more sensitive than adults a study comparing the sugar response in children and adults showed that the adrenaline levels in children remained ten times higher than normal for up to five hours after a test dose of sugar. Studies have also shown that some children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) react to glucose intolerance tests with a dip to low blood sugar levels. High adrenaline levels or low blood sugar levels produce abnormal behaviour. Research suggests that children are more sugar sensitive than adults, and the effects are more pronounced in younger children, according to Dr. Keith Conners, author of Feeding the Brain. This could be related to the fact that the brain grows rapidly in the preschool years, exaggerating the effects of sugar on behaviour and learning.

Sugar promotes obesity.

 Researchers at the Reading University found strongest link yet between high sugar consumption and obesity.

So when we give our children sugary treats on a daily basis, let’s think again – we are compromising our children’s health.

Action on Sugar – UK, is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. It is successfully working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high sugar diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar in processed foods.

Action on Sugar is a registered charity and is funded by charitable donations. They do not accept any funding from the food or soft drinks industry.

Action on sugar held their first Sugar Awareness Week from 30th November -6th December 2015, highlighting the importance of reducing free sugars consumption in the UK population.

As part of the week they launched a sugar reduction plan and encourage the government to take action. This includes asking the food and drink industry to act more responsibly by reducing the amount of sugars they add to food and drink.

Sugar and Britain’s obesity crisis: the key questions answered – read here 

 How much sugar is in YOUR food? by Jamie Oliver

Is There Any Safe Amount of Sugar?

In my opinion, there is no safe amount of processed or refined sugar. Naturally contained sugars in fruit and vegetables are balanced by the fibre, vitamins, enzymes and other properties of the fruit/vegetable which slow sugar digestion and help the body deal with it more easily. Processed varieties, on the other hand, provide none of these benefits and instead create these harmful effects of sugar in the body:

Practically Speaking…

I realise that in today’s world, it can be tough to completely avoid sugar since it is so readily available. Unfortunately, the widespread availability doesn’t reduce the effects of sugar…

Especially for children who are still developing their nutritional foundation, metabolism, and hormones, even a little sugar can be harmful. As hard as it can be sometimes, we try to stick to whole, real foods as much as possible and avoid processed foods.

For us, this means cooking at home almost all the time from scratch. We work to teach our children about healthy eating at home and about the negative effects of sugar. My five old son is so sensitive to sugar that any amount he consumes he gets a negative reaction from it which shows up on his skin and cause lots of itching and at its worst even broken skin. And my six year daughter responds to sugar by itchy skin and yeast overgrowth. But I also don’t completely restrict unhealthy foods if we are away from home or if they are invited to their friend’s birthday parties.

While they are young now and it is easy to make sure they are eating healthy foods, especially at home, they will one day grow up and be away from home and be exposed to all types of foods. I think it is important to let them start to make food choices on their own (and they usually make healthy ones) while they are still young and I can still help guide their choices rather than completely restrict them.

When kids are used to eating a really healthy diet, even a small amount of processed food will usually make them feel ‘yucky’, as my son often says.  And it discourages them from eating it again.

Exposure to other foods often leads to conversations about different types of foods and which are good/bad for the body. My son is the most curious one, he usually get the conversation started.

My children would make good food choices on their own now and have become more adventurous eaters since they aren’t restricted or expected to only eat baked beans and fish fingers or hamburgers, pizzas and chips when we aren’t at home. Make the good foods readily available and make the unhealthy ones few and far between…

We also don’t consume sugary drinks and squashes. I now make water kefir with beneficial bacteria to add to our drinking water, most days I will add about ¼ teaspoon Vitamin C powder to their water bottle for school – keeping colds and flu at bay.

It may sound like a lot of work? And yes it is more work than a ready meal microwave or oven heated – but so worth it! We haven’t had to take any of the children to the doctor for any illness that may be going around in school, and we are managing our son’s allergies naturally. They are happy and active. My hope as they grow is to nurture their own healthy eating habits and develop a lifelong foundation for healthy eating.