Is sugar and child behavior connected? Before we delve into that, we need to understand that a perfect balanced diet of carbs, proteins, essential fats, vitamins and minerals is important during the growing age of the child. It is an ongoing research on whether food intake is really linked to a child’s behavior and mood. Below are the effects of healthy and unhealthy eating habits on the mood and behavior of a child.
|Healthy Eating Habits (Includes a balanced diet)
||Unhealthy Eating Habits (Includes consumption of sugary food, preservative containing food, food colouring foods)
We tend to correlate the word ‘kids’ with chocolates, ice creams, candies and cakes, etc.. The basic ingredient in these items is sugar!
Sugar and Child Behavior in Relation to Nutrition
Sugars are simple carbohydrates that easily get absorbed in blood glucose. Sugar is an empty calorie food i.e it has no nutrients and provides only energy.
Sugars have various forms like white sugar, brown sugar, honey and corn syrup. It’s a myth that jaggery, honey and brown sugar are better off than white sugar. Calories coming from them are same. The only difference is that white sugar is absorbed faster in the bloodstream than other sources.
Fruits naturally contain fructose with fiber which makes you feel fuller and are rich in water content, vitamins and minerals. On the other hand, colas or sugar candies contains only fructose syrup which disrupts the brain signal of being full and the child feels hungry again
Hidden Sugars in Food
Hidden Sugar means that the packet of food doesn’t show the word sugar on the ingredient list but still contains sugar labelled as other names such as dextrose, dextrin, corn syrup, or barley malt.
When consumed more than the required amounts and on a daily basis, sugar affects various parts of the body and mind:
- Teeth (Tooth Cavities): Bacteria live on sugar medium. When kids don’t brush well or don’t drink water after eating, bacteria tends to overgrow, which in turn leads to cavities and tooth decay.
- Brain: Impaired ability to memorise things, as the brain doesn’t get the right amount of nutrients to function.
- Behavior: Sugar numbs the neurons in the brain, shortens a child’s attention span and makes them hyperactive.
- Immunity: Constant bouts of cold and cough makes it difficult to sleep at night.
- Metabolism: A child is at a higher risk of being obese and developing long term diseases like Diabetes.
- Hormonal: Being in the growing stage, they are more prone to hormonal issues like acne, early onset of puberty, dandruff, skin issues, impaired growth.
- Worms: Thread worms are caused due to bacteria thrive on sugar if the intake is high.
How to Minimize Sugar Dependence
- As parents, we need to change our attitude of rewarding kids with sugar-rich foods every time they complete a task or behave well.
- Fix up a Treat day like once a week or fortnightly wherein only on that day they can eat their favourite chocolate, cakes or candies
- Substitute ready to drink fruit beverages with homemade smoothies or freshly prepared pulp fruit juice
- Train them to choose healthy items like high fiber biscuits instead of cream-based biscuits
- Prepare desserts at home with less sugar and store it. This way you minimize the chances of buying them from a shop
- Be gradual and change one habit at a time. Don’t be adamant on changing the habits all at once.
How to Encourage Healthy Eating Habits
- Make them learn all the food groups – vegetables, fruits, cereals, pulses, dairy. Either draw it on a paper or show them the real foods. Ask them to pick up the ones they want to eat for that particular day. This way, you can plan for 2-3 days in advance.
- Usually, unhealthy eating habits make them vitamin and mineral deficient. So consult your doctor and start the appropriate supplements for it.
- Prepare attractive snacking ideas in their tiffin boxes like a veggie stuffed roll, colourful sandwich, idlis made with spinach puree or tricolour idlis.
- Remember the negative effects of unhealthy eating don’t show up immediately. It’s a long term consequence. But if the child’s health is compromised with headaches, asthma, cold/cough then the negative effects are seen in the short term.
Another important factor is being intolerant to certain food items like dairy products (casein) or gluten (wheat), which may make them aggressive, cranky and/or fussy. Common food allergens like soy, peanuts, corn and nuts also adversely affect the behaviour of the child in a negative way.
It is always better to read labels of food packets before purchasing. Be aware of what you and your kids are consuming. In case of doubts, do consult a doctor or nutritionist.
We hope this article on sugar and child behavior helps you make smarter nutritional choices for your children. Do let us know your thoughts in the comments below. For more on Kid’s Health, click here. To get expert advice, speak to a GOQii Coach by subscribing for Personalised Health Coaching.