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Sugar has a bad reputation. In most cases, it deserves that reputation. Although sugar is something we should limit in our daily lives, it’s important to understand what makes added sugar so unhealthy.
It’s commonly believed that one of the many adverse effects of sugar is its ability to lead to hyperactivity in children – or at the very least, make them a little bit hyper. Things may not be what they seem in that regard. Even still, it’s a wise idea to limit your child’s sugar intake for many reasons.
There is some amount of sugar that naturally occurs in many plant-based foods and dairy foods. This isn’t the kind of sugar you should be worried about. It’s added sugars that pose a real problem.
Refined sugars added to sweetened foods and drinks serve no nutritional purpose. They simply make things taste better. After all, there’s nothing wrong with having a sweet treat from time to time.
The issue is that most people are indulging in sweet treats more than they realize. Sugar is hidden in the ingredients list of almost everything we eat that isn’t whole food. That’s why the average American consumes about 77 grams of added sugar a day, which is three times more than the recommended maximum amount.
This added sugar causes blood glucose spikes. It can potentially lead to diabetes.
Sugar contains four calories per gram, making 77 grams of added sugar 300 non-useful calories. This can contribute to ⅔ a pound a week of weight gain. Not to mention, added sugars make a large contribution to obesity.
There is no concrete evidence that sugar causes hyperactivity. A single study on a single child conducted in the 1970s led one doctor to conclude that eliminating sugar from a child’s diet improved his behavior. Researchers have attempted to replicate these results in larger test groups with other children, and they’ve never reached the same conclusion.
The idea that sugar impacts a child’s behavior by making them hyper is a myth that’s persisted through word of mouth and old wives' tales. While it’s true that sugar could be considered a stimulant, the same can be said of all carbohydrates that contribute to the body’s ability to produce and use energy.
A spoonful of sugar is no more likely to make your child hyper or cause other behavioral problems than a plain slice of bread.
One of the reasons the sugar myth has survived so long is that, at a glance, it seems to be true.
Correlation is not always causation. Children often eat sugary treats at birthday parties, celebrations, holidays, or fun trips away from home. They bounce off the walls, and they run around. They want to play with everything and talk to everyone. It certainly seems that they’re acting hyper due to a so-called sugar high.
They’ll react the same way when you bring a new puppy home, surprise them with theme park tickets, or tell them their favorite relative is coming to visit. There’s no sugar involved in those scenarios.
In all of the above scenarios, children are enjoying themselves, and they’re very happy. Happy children are often more energetic, especially if they have outgoing personalities. It’s not a result of the sugar — it’s a celebration of the circumstances.
Eliminating sugar entirely is an unrealistic goal, and it can probably backfire. If you forbid your children from doing something, what is the first thing they want to do? If you tell your child they’re never allowed to have sugar, eating sugar may become a form of rebellion. They’ll sneak it every opportunity they get.
Rather than making sugar a forbidden food, make it a special occasion food. Explain to your children why it isn’t good to eat sugary foods every day, and allow them to have the occasional after-dinner cookie on days when the rest of their diet is well-balanced.
Even though sugar won’t make your child hyper, you shouldn’t hand out sugary snacks all the time. Added sugars pose consequences to your child’s health, and these consequences may impact your child for the rest of their life.
Over 19% of American children are obese, according to CDC. Childhood obesity can easily become adulthood obesity if nothing changes. Eliminating junk food and added sugars from your home is a simple step you can take to keep your child in better health.
Replace sugary snacks with whole foods, like apples and nut butter or carrots and hummus. These nutritionally-balanced snacks contain fiber and healthy fats that may satisfy your child’s hunger while helping them meet their nutritional goals.
Oral bacteria are especially interested in consuming sugar. They find sugar on teeth, stick themselves to those teeth, eat the sugar, and excrete an acidic substance. The acid gets stuck in the sticky substance they use to hold themselves to the tooth. It stays in place and begins to erode tooth enamel. This is what causes cavities.
Children are still learning to brush their teeth. They need your guidance from time to time, and you should be checking in to ensure they’re doing a good job. When combined with proper brushing habits, limiting sugar can help reduce the risk that oral bacteria may cause cavities.
Sugar is not addictive in the same way drugs are addictive. It’s addictive in the same way things like video games or gambling can be addictive. Sugar is sweet, and eating sugary foods or sugary drinks makes people feel good. Good feelings light up the pleasure centers in the brain and make us happy.
This process puts people in a feedback loop. They constantly crave sugar because they know it can make them feel good. It’s a difficult cycle to break.
Sugar consumption rarely leads to sugar addiction, but it’s always a possibility. Don’t use sugar as a reward or bargaining chip. It’s better to use sugar as a part of a normal routine, like having family ice cream night once a week. The routine won’t be exclusive to eating sugar. It can create a positive association with planned family time together and give your child something to look forward to.
When children are young, they begin to learn the habits that can follow them throughout the rest of their lives. That’s why behavior modeling is important. If your child grows up eating sugary snacks and takeout all the time, they’ll view that as a normal way of living.
When your children get their first jobs and begin fending for themselves, they often stick to what they know. This means a lot of drive-through meals and a lot of quick sugary snacks.
If you don’t make sugar a part of their daily lives, they’ll be less likely to make it a part of their young adult lives. If they establish a healthy routine early on, all they have to do is stick to what works.
Suppose you need to sweeten a pitcher of herbal tea or make oatmeal a little more exciting. In that case, there are plenty of valuable alternatives to sugar that can give food a sweet flavor without adding loads of empty calories.
Stevia is a plant grown for its naturally sweet leaves. Extract from stevia leaves can be as much as 300 times sweeter than sugar. A little bit goes a long way.
Some people find that stevia has a bitter aftertaste. This aftertaste can be more or less noticeable, depending on how you use stevia.
Xylitol is a naturally-derived sugar alcohol that occurs in many plants and is commonly extracted from birch trees. However, xylitol leaves a residue on teeth. This residue doesn’t harm the tooth, and it prevents bacteria from adhering themselves to the teeth.
That’s why every dentist-recommended brand of chewing gum uses xylitol as a sweetener.
Monk fruit contains naturally sweet compounds that the body cannot digest. These compounds are similar to dietary fiber. Monk fruit adds a sweet flavor to foods without imparting any calories. It simply passes right through your system without causing any of the adverse effects that sugar may cause.
Your child’s multivitamin supplement is the last place you would think to look for added sugars, artificial sweeteners, and artificial flavoring.
After all, aren’t multivitamins supposed to be healthy? Most gummy multivitamins aren’t much different from gummy candy with added vitamins. What kind of message does that send to your children about sugar and health?
That’s why Hiya’s once-daily children’s chewable multivitamin is sugar-free and sweetened naturally with zero added sugar. It tastes good enough for kids to chew without a fuss, and it won’t contribute to their daily intake of added sugars. If your child’s pediatrician recommends a multivitamin supplement, Hiya fits the bill.