Halting the Sugar Roller-Coaster

The media frequently reports on childhood obesity, naming three major culprits: sugar, fats and salt. Let’s focus on sugar.

The reality is, most children just love sugar.  Sugar not only tastes good, but the brain requires sugar in order to function. However, for an important reason, consuming refined sugar is detrimental to a little person’s health. The reason is that sugar produces a hormonal roller-coaster in the body. When simple or refined sugars are consumed, they plunge straight into the bloodstream. The body reacts by producing a hormone called insulin which binds to the sugar and either transports it into the cells for energy or into the liver for storage as fat. Now the body finds itself in a situation of low blood sugar, which does not please the brain.  The body responds with yet another set of dramatic hormonal changes. As the brain goes into survival mode, the adrenal glands produce adrenaline.

The body careens into fight-or-flight mode and becomes stressed. The next time you see your child running around like crazy, you will understand that he/she is not on a sugar high but is actually having a sugar crash. Needless to say, these highs and lows are addictive.

For most parents, steering their children away from this coveted substance is close to impossible. Birthdays and school gatherings serve up cupcakes and candy as their main attraction. There are, however, creative ways in which you can minimize the effects of sugar. The key is protein. Give your child a high protein meal before a party or gathering—Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, meatballs or cold cuts are all good. Your veggie options are high protein grains such as amaranth and quinoa, soy products such as tofu and tempeh, and of course, nut butters such as almond or peanut. These foods will help slow the release of sugars into the bloodstream. The other food type you want in your child’s diet is fiber. Soluble fiber, such as oats, and insoluble fiber like flax seed also decelerate the breakdown of sugars.

Ultimately, the best thing you can do for your child is to cultivate good eating habits. Creatively preparing your dishes is at the heart of the matter. Help your child develop a taste for fresh fruits. They contain sugar but also contain fiber, minerals and antioxidants, which are very healthful and, let’s not forget, totally delicious.

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