The Undeniable Impact Of Sugar
When my son eats a major sugar bomb, like a piece of cake at a birthday party, I can see his mood change. His generally sweet and cooperative disposition shifts to one of a fired up wild child, which is soon followed by a crash of energy and crankiness. His ability to follow directions, typically a positive trait for my son, wanes as a result as well.
Watching this outwardly behavioral roller coaster is like tracing the steps of sugar’s overt and undeniable physiological impact on my son. The sugar is sending signals and triggering reactions in his young and developing mind and body.
The More We Consume The More We Want
Sugar makes a direct impact on our brains and correlating bodily systems that is concerning, if not downright scary. According to the Arrowhead Health Centers, sugar signals the brain to go haywire, causing the brain to dump hormones into the body which in turn create more cravings for sugar.
The more sugar we consume the more we want it. Sugar does the following to our brains:
A visual cue, like seeing a sweet treat, can cause a quick surge of the hormone dopamine along with a brief sense of alertness, which is followed up by a drop in energy.
Upon consuming a sugary item, some opioids get released into our body, causing further cravings for the treats. This is similar to bodily responses from using nicotine and opioid drugs.
Sugar alters the appetite centers of your brain causing you to feel hungry more often and delayed in feeling full.
Sugar And Our Kids
Previously I have discussed the challenges of navigating the toddler diet, especially under the backdrop of our own baggage we carry around as parents. I know my son needs to be a kid and especially enjoy life moments like a piece of cake on his birthday, but I can not stop wondering if I am being parentally lazy by allowing steady flows of sugar in my son’s diet.
Putting aside treats from a party, I am more so referring to the daily amounts of sugar that creep into all sorts of meals and snacks for kids. Many of these snacks being branded as healthy or organic. I even have to raise an eyebrow anymore to the amounts of sugar that are naturally occurring in fruits.
While fruit can be a welcomed source of fiber and other nutrients, it can and does contain naturally occurring sugars that can add up if not consumed in sensible amounts. Sugar is sugar to our body, whether from a bag of skittles or a pile of grapes on a plate.
Beyond The Empty Calories
Keep in mind, it is not just about calories, but more so the signals that are bodies are being sent from the types of foods we consume. Sugar can send some bad signals.
There was a recent study done on mice involving sugar and the potential impacts on social aggression. Young mice were fed sugary beverages into adulthood. The results of this test showed that an overconsumption of sugary beverages leads to increased social aggression and pro-inflammatory responses in the brain.
I try to avoid sugar entirely for my own diet. I am rather militant in my approach towards sugar. I eat a high-fat diet along with moderate protein and limited carbs. My sources of carbohydrates are chosen with a strict discerning manner as well, opting for slow burning carbs like those from green vegetables. Fruit is rare and occasional, like a handful of blueberries now and then.
Am I simply taking the easy road by not applying the same high-level of standards for clean and nourishing foods for my son that I apply towards my own diet?
I know firsthand the debilitating impact that sugar had on my childhood and in my early adult life. I dealt with weight management issues, bloating, lack of muscle development, and inflammatory aches and pains.
I can especially attest to the overall improvement in health and fitness levels I have experienced within the past 5+ years as a result of striking sugar out, almost entirely from my diet.
Remission Through Diet Alone
There was a recent study that documents children inflicted with major gastro conditions like Crohn’s disease being treated and having symptoms reversed solely through a strict, low-carb, grain-free, and sugar-free diet.
If you have no time or interest in reviewing the entire study I will quote the summary right here, based on the power of the statement:
Food, not drugs or medical procedures, is curing their inflictions. Why are we waiting for kids to become sick before we apply the same standard or nourishment to all of our kid’s meals?
Why Not My Kid?
In exploring my own parenting and trying to uncover why I do not apply my own dietary principles towards my son there are a few things that I can come up with. The first possibility, I am being lazy. Another potential reason, I am letting my kid be a kid. Admittedly, there seems to be some potential overlap between those two.
Lastly, and perhaps the most fitting reason, is I am only now becoming truly aware of the dangers of sugar. I think with what is at stake here some deeper self-examination is called for.
Let us tackle the most damning possibility first, that of parental laziness. It is hard work being a parent. There are countless battles to be picked and waged in the daily struggle of raising kids. Matters of eating can be at the top of the list when it comes to pushback and pickiness from our kids.
My top-level goal and overarching philosophy governing my approach towards my son’s diet is to ensure he is eating in a markedly improved fashion over my experiences as a kid growing up in the 70’s and 80’s.
My Own Childhood Eating Habits
When I was a kid growing up, our home was thankfully filled with love and plenty of wholesome, home-cooked meals. This was the 70’s and 80’s, though, and there was not a major emphasis being placed on the foods we fed our body and the impact that they have on our health. Nothing like the awareness from the information that is circulating today.
Daily soda and all day cups of juice were the norms. Squirt cheese, chips, tasty-cake desserts, and all other sorts of processed foods were eaten often. This was the case for every single home, up and down the block of our neighborhood. This was life in that era.
In the late 80’s we shifted, in accordance to the dogma being pushed by the medical community, to a low-fat household. We did as the medical community said to do.
I recall all the “fat-free” branded snacks and desserts we ate back then, thinking we were eating for health. Meanwhile, they were loaded with carbs, sugars, and all sorts of processed junk.
Today, I am comforted in the food shopping we do for our home. We never purchase soda, fruit juices, or stock up on desserts. We are clearly establishing a model of eating in our home that is a significant improvement from my own childhood experience. Is it enough, though?
The processed kid’s snacks we do bring home, all branded organic and or healthy alternatives, almost always contain added sugar early in the list of ingredients. If you were to break down my son’s caloric intake I am fairly certain you would find carbohydrates as the far and away leader, followed by protein and fats.
I make choices to reverse that order of macronutrients for my own diet, consciously working to have fats be the leader of my caloric consumption along with limiting my carbs. I have seen considerable wellness and energy impacts as a result.
A young growing kid has a completely different set of physiological needs from a fully formed adult, so I am not suggesting my son should be mimicking my diet, however, some elements should perhaps be applied.
Broccoli For The Win
I do not consider my son a picky eater by any stretch, but he himself has only a small number of food items that he approves and rotates through his daily meals. I have held my ground and tried to stay steadfast in introducing broccoli into his diet, which thankfully he will eat.
The broccoli is typically the last thing on his plate at dinner and it can be a battle of wills at times to get him to eat it, but he does a pretty good job at finishing it. I consider that a major win and I am hopefully instilling in him a positive eating habit for the long-term.
So we shop mindfully, get him to eat broccoli often, and try to keep his meals home cooked. I do not think the lazy tag would be fair or applicable here, but am I still doing enough?
Letting A Kid Be A Kid
The second notion of excusing or allowing a good bit of sugar in my son’s diet is the concept of “just letting my kid be a kid”.
I am aware that any overbearing tone of restriction about anything can cause psychological issues to be formed in a kid surrounding that forbidden item. Negative or unhealthy attachments can form around food for our kids and there needs to be careful navigation around the ways we parent and restrict our kid’s habits.
The last thing I want to do is to drive my kid’s behavior underground and have him feel he needs to sneak and hide treats from us. That can develop into an even more dangerous concern than the consuming of sugar itself.
If I create too much of a hysteria, then that can backfire by unintentionally establishing sugary items as the metaphoric forbidden apple. We all know the pull of items branded inappropriate and off-limits by parents. See the explosion of rock-n-roll in the 1950’s as a generational example.
I do want my kid to be a kid and I do see the value and common sense of enjoying life experiences, like a treat at a party. It feels at times, though, that the parties, holidays, and treats in preschool are on a never ending cycle.
When does letting my kid be a kid devolve into poor parenting?
Lack Of Awareness
The fact that my awareness has grown tenfold from researching and writing this piece supports the notion that I was not fully open to the true dangers of sugar with our kids. For decades, talking points have persisted like “everything in moderation” and sugar is just a “benign empty calorie”.
There has been some relatively recent bombshell reporting that has uncovered that in the 1960’s the sugar industry paid scientists to downplay the link between sugar and heart disease and instead shift the blame over to saturated fats.
I believe society as a whole has been taken for a ride with misinformation, innocently through bad advice from our doctors and at the most sinister level through conspiratorial, greed driven, propaganda campaigns by big business. I think we have to start questioning everything now and looking at the sources and motives behind much of the nutritional dogma that has persisted for decades.
I Am No Expert
I have no definitive answers or guidance to offer here. I am truly asking these questions as much for myself as any other parent. This is a tricky and challenging landscape, kids and their food, and I feel flawed and challenged in this arena.
I know we are finding out more and more about sugar and the damage it can cause. It is downright scary stuff. The physiological responses sugar can fire off in our bodies are akin to drug use. That is not a dramatic statement, it is backed up by science and reality.
Under that context, are we doing enough for our kids in regards to consuming sugar?