Effects of Sugar on a Child's Behavior
Many experts believe that the consumption of processed sugar contributes to hyperactivity, irritability, lack of concentration, and aggression. Others claim that sugar causes no such ill effects. Let's look at the facts.

Refined sugars are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream causing a burst of energy. This triggers the release of endorphins, natural opiates, which create euphoric feelings. During this temporary high, blood sugar level escalate. The body recognizes the situation as an emergency and stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin which shuts down the production of glucose (the fuel of the brain). This sudden release of insulin causes blood sugar to plunge to below normal levels. Once your child crashes, her body compensates by releasing stress behavior. She may also experience hunger and weakness which causes a craving for yet another "hit" of sugar to compensate for low sugar levels. The body releases stored up sugar in the liver, creating a hormonal roller-coaster of hyperactivity, anxiety, and irritability. Children with compromised attachment often crave and hoard sugar products. Parents find candy wrappers under the bed. They eat sugar straight from the packet. They never seem to get enough.

Our diets affect our brains, and therefore our thinking and behavior. A child's brain has about two to three times the energy needs of an adult brain. The brain has no storage capacity for energy. Remember, glucose is the fuel of the brain. The released insulin shuts down the body's production of glucose. If the supply of energy is inadequate for even a short period of time, then the limbic system always wins. The limbic system governs our emotions and the fight, flight, or freeze response. The cerebral cortex must compete for the remaining glucose. The limbic system always wins. The limbic system governs our emotions and the fight, flight, or freeze response. The cerebral cortex is responsible for important functions such as decision making, information processing, and regulation of empathy and compassion. The area of the brain which controls thoughtfulness, learning, and rational behavior shuts down and converts all the energy to the area of the brain that controls rage, depression, and excesses. Research shows that there is a significant drop in violent behavior when sugar consumption is decreased or eliminated. (Howard, 1994.)

Two hundred years ago the average American ate less than 10 pounds of sugar per year. We now consume a world-leading 137.5 pounds per year. (Atkins, 1992.) Most of our processed foods and soft drinks are loaded with sugar. An average 25% of our total calories are "empty," devoid of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and other important nutrients necessary for healthy growth and development. (Conrad, 2003.) Refined sugar actually depletes the body of B vitamins, zinc, and chromium. When scientists in a lab want to cultivate germs they put them in sugar. Germs love it. This is why sugar causes tooth decay and stomach problems. (Cross, 2002.)

Some children appear to handle sugar better than others. Children whose brains have experienced the insult of early compromised attachment may be more susceptible to the ill effects of sugar consumption. They already have high arousal levels and an impeded ability to self-regulate. Sugar literally adds fuel to the fire.

As parents, we must be careful about rewarding good behavior with sweets. We have a tendency to equate love with sugar. We call our loved ones honey, sugar, and sweetie. We give candy on Valentine's Day to express our endearment. From the moment they come home from school many children have access to highly processed "junk food" and sugar laden soft drinks. The consequences for our children's health in the past generation have been dramatic. Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity, diseases associated with aging, are now increasingly common in children as young as elementary school. (Mitchell, 2005.)

The best sugars for these children are the ones that take longer to digest such as the fructose contained in fruit and honey and the lactose found in dairy products. These forms of sugar don't enter the bloodstream as quickly yet still provide a steady source of energy. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, whole grain versions of crackers, unsweetened cereal, and past, as well as potatoes are some other healthier choices. Provide plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Nibbling on better foods every two to three hours helps in preventing your child's blood sugar from slipping down too low or too rapidly. (Smith, 1976.)


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