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How Does Sugar Really Affect Children’s Behaviour?

Numerous studies have been done to work out if consuming sugar really affects children’s behaviour. One thing has become clear – it doesn’t make them hyperactive. You can read more about this in an experiment where children were given very high levels of sugar at a very peaceful party and very low level of sugar at a wild party. The outcome of this showed that it isn’t the sugar that makes the child hyper, it is the environment.

However this study didn’t go into detail about how the children behaved an hour or so later as their blood sugar levels dropped.

When we eat a lot of sugar, our blood-sugar levels rise to excess and in response our bodies produce large amounts of insulin to sweep the sugar out of our blood and into our cells. Our blood-sugar levels then drop suddenly leaving us feeling cranky, tired and shaky and wanting more sugar to pull us out of the low.

If we limit the amount of sugar our children consume, and ensure they eat some protein or fibre along with the sugar, they are less likely to suffer the highs and lows of this sugary rollercoaster ride, making life easier for us, and happier for them!

Sugar and Weaning!!!

So if sugar can have such a negative effect on our children, why are we born with a “sweet tooth”?

Because breast milk is naturally sweet, we need to be drawn to sweet flavours to survive those first few months (this is why infant formula is sweet too). For this reason, when we start weaning, it is easiest to start with food that is naturally sweet, such as carrot, pear, apple, sweet potato and slowly move onto more savoury food.

Sugar makes the brain produce dopamine, which makes us feel good but leaves us craving more. Broccoli, however, doesn’t have a dopamine inducing affect, which is why we never see children throwing themselves on the floor of the vegetable section of Waitrose, demanding broccoli!

Interestingly, the first time we try something new, our brains produce large amounts of dopamine, but this levels out the more often we eat it. This happens so that we try new foods and get a balance of all the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. This could explain why children suddenly “go off” something that they’ve happily eaten for ages – it’s just not making them feel good any more, and other things are!

The problem with sugar is that it continues to trigger high dopamine levels leaving us craving more of it the more we eat. We don’t ever get used to it or go off it. But if we limit the amount of sugar we eat, we won’t crave it so much. Some sugar in our diet is fine, but we need to keep it in moderation and remember that it doesn’t just come in the form of white granules [and bright coloured sweeties], it’s in many of the things we eat.

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