Refined Sugar And Kids — What You Don’t Know
Refined sugar is everywhere a kid looks these days – from cereal to ketchup to salad dressings, to the candy in the pocket of a fond aunty or uncle. Because we all know that kids love sugar – or do they?
We explored some popular beliefs about “healthy” food for kids and refined sugar, and came away surprised.
Kids have a sweet tooth, but not necessarily for refined sugar.
Babies are born with a natural predisposition for sweet and salty tastes, thanks to evolution. Once upon a time this predilection ensured kids gravitate to sweeter foods, which tend to have a higher calorie count (important, when you’re foraging for survival).
But ever since refined sugar was introduced into human diets some 300 years ago (a blink of the eye in evolutionary terms), our sense of what is sweet has skewed. For instance, breast milk is a naturally sweet food, as are most fruits; and both come packed with additional nutrients and fiber.
What this means is that a child who has no or limited exposure to refined sugar won’t crave it, whereas a child who consistently eats sugar will crave sweeter and sweeter tastes, because …
Sugar is addictive.
Thanks to a questionnaire developed by Yale psychologists, the top 10 most addictive foods have been scientifically proven – and almost all of them contain refined sugar. (No. 1 culprit? Ice cream.)
It’s a vicious circle that most people – especially kids – are never aware of. When you take a bite of anything containing refined sugar (whether a tub of chocolate marble or a sweetened dal or breakfast cereal), the body breaks down the sugar rapidly, causing an instant spike in blood sugar and insulin levels. Because of this, the sugar gets digested in no time, which means these levels crash almost instantly, too. As a result, you never end up feeling full and keep going back for more. (Eating naturally sweet food, like say an apple, is different because the fiber in it slows down the digestion process, keeping you satiated for long.)
This is compounded by two facts: First, that repeated exposure to a certain food increases its acceptance. And second, that foods high in refined sugar, salt and fat light up the pleasure centres in the brain. In other words, kids (and adults) will keep eating sugar because it doesn’t fill us up and it makes us feel good.
Article continues below
Refined sugar can contribute to cancer.
Obesity’s link to diabetes, and even cancer, has been known for some time now. But sugar’s direct impact on cancer risk became clearer in a 2007 report by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, which found that insulin resistance, the primary cause of diabetes, also facilitates the growth of cancerous cells.
A quick refresher in biology: When you eat sugar, your body produces insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance, wherein the amount of insulin your body is producing doesn’t have the same affect on your blood sugar levels as it used to. (This is a particular problem for Indians, who are predisposed to insulin resistance to begin with.) The body produces more and more insulin, which still doesn’t accomplish what it should.
So, the hormone sometimes finds itself another purpose: promoting tumour growth. Some scientists believe this sugar-prompted insulin superhighway pushes pre-cancerous cells over the edge to mutate into malignancy. And once cancerous, several human cancers — breast and colon cancer in particular — are known to feed on insulin to spread.
Refined sugar has literally no nutritional value.
It’s not like iceberg lettuce, or celery, which get a bad rap among the vegetable group. These veggies fill you up, but you’d have to eat many times beyond filling to get enough nutrients from them. Sugar – which doesn’t fill you up, as described above – doesn’t even offer nutritional value in large quantities. Because there’s literally none there to begin with. Not a minuscule amount, not a smidgen. Nada. Refined sugar offers energy in the form of calories, but no actual nutrition.
Just nine days without refined sugar can improve kids’ health.
Last year, a research team undertook a study that replaced foods with added sugar with healthy carbohydrates in the diets of kids with one or more symptoms of metabolic syndrome. In just nine days, they saw some astounding results: the children’s LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (associated with heart disease), blood pressure and fasting blood sugar levels dropped, while their insulin levels showed marked improvement.
Your kid’s bad behaviour can’t even be blamed on sugar.
Sugar isn’t even good for taking the blame for a tantrum or burst of energy. A meta analysis of 23 studies conducted over 12 years busted the ‘sugar rush’ myth wide open, finding little evidence to support the popular belief that eating refined sugar influences kids’ behaviour. Researchers posited that because sweet treats are often part of happy occasions, children are already excited, or there may be discipline problems or undiagnosed conditions like ADHD.
And the belief that sugar before bedtime causes sleeplessness? False. Since the instantaneous spike in blood sugar levels is followed by a crash, eating refined sugar actually induces fatigue and increases the tendency to sleep.