Sugar: Does It Really Make Kids Hyper?
What's The Harm?
Findings like these concern health experts, especially because eating high-sugar foods early on makes kids crave them more later. Fortunately, "parents can do a lot to train their young child's taste buds so she doesn't end up wanting sweetness so much," says Gail Frank, a nutritional epidemiologist at California State University, in Long Beach.
Just as children differ in body type, activity level, and temperament, there's no set measuring spoon for the right amount of sugar in their diet. At the same time, how sugar plays into various health considerations can help guide you toward the right balance for your child:
Cavities Sugar alone doesn't cause them, but it does fuel the growth of bacteria that do. So while fluoridated water and regular toothbrushing help prevent cavities, a steady stream of sugar in the mouth increases their likelihood. That's why dentists advise against putting babies to sleep with a bottle of milk (it contains milk sugar) or fruit juice, or letting them sip the stuff throughout the day.
Behavioral problems Numerous studies have confirmed that sugar does not cause hyperactivity. In fact, a few drops of sugar water (a half teaspoon in an ounce of water) can soothe a fussing baby. When sugar enters the bloodstream and reaches the brain, it temporarily increases calming neurochemicals, such as serotonin.
That's not to say you're just imagining those post-birthday-cake meltdowns. The problem is what happens when blood-sugar levels rise too high. The body responds by producing a large amount of insulin, a hormone that sweeps sugar out of the blood and into body cells. Blood-sugar levels may then drop so quickly, your child may feel shaky or sluggish. Not surprisingly, low blood-sugar levels can trigger a craving for more sweets, which creates a vicious cycle of sugar highs and lows.
If your child tends to have postsugar meltdowns, you can prevent them by tempering the amount he gets at any one time -- controlling portion size, diluting fruit juices, choosing treats low in sugar -- and by making sure he eats something heartier along with sweets. Protein (cheese, soy, beans, meat, nuts) and fiber (fruits, veggies, whole grains) help slow the rise and fall of blood-sugar levels.
Obesity Sugar alone doesn't make kids overweight. Children gain too many pounds when they take in more calories than they burn. Unfortunately, sugary drinks and treats typically supply calories above and beyond what kids need to satisfy their hunger.
Sugar calories also tend to go down too fast and easy. A 12-ounce can of soda contains ten teaspoons of sugar (160 calories), and many sweetened fruit drinks have as much or more. Regularly drinking even one sugary drink (soda, fruit punch, or sweetened iced tea) a day increases the risk of obesity. That's one reason the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement in January urging schools to stop offering sweetened drinks in cafeterias and vending machines.
Fruit juices, which contain concentrated amounts of fruit sugar, can also be overdone, says pediatrician Barbara Frankowski, M.D. The AAP advises age-by-age limits:
* No fruit juice for babies under 6 months
* No more than 6 ounces a day for babies 6 months to 1 year
* No more than 6 ounces a day for kids 1 to 6
* No more than 12 ounces a day for kids over 6.
Diabetes Sugar by itself isn't to blame. But a high-sugar diet can increase a child's risk of developing Type 2 diabetes or the prediabetic condition known as insulin resistance syndrome. Both can result when the body becomes less sensitive to insulin, and both are associated with a variety of serious health problems in later life, including heart disease and even infertility.
According to endocrinologists, a high-sugar diet may raise the risk of diabetes and insulin resistance syndrome indirectly, by contributing to obesity (a strong risk factor), and directly, by overworking the pancreas, the organ that produces insulin.