The Effects of Sugar on Children

It's important to understand the effects of sugar on children. You know it's in some obvious foods, like cookies and breakfast cereal. But where else is it lurking? And is it always a bad thing?

The Positive Side of Sugar
Sugar is a naturally occurring carbohydrate. Contrary to popular belief, there are some positives to having sugar in a diet.  Sugar is found in many food items like fruit, yogurt, cereal and vegetables. These foods are healthy and have other essential vitamins and minerals. The natural sugar makes them sweet, which makes kids want to eat them. 

Foods whose primary ingredient is sugar, like cakes and cookies, are the ones you want to avoid.
Unrefined sugar in moderation is good for your diet. Sugar is used for energy by your body for activities like weight training and cardio, which is what kids are doing when they're running around the soccer field. Any sugar your body doesn't use gets stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles, where it can quickly be converted into energy. Once those stores are full, the sugar turns to fat.

Good sugars, those that are unrefined, can be found in fruits and some vegetables. The great thing about getting the bulk of your sugar from these foods is that it's hard to overdo it. Fruits and vegetables are packed with fiber, water and minerals, meaning that their sugar content is lower than that of other foods. There's a very low chance that a child eating fruits and vegetables will get enough sugar to turn it to fat. Kids who eat lots of cookies and sugary cereals can overdo it very easily and start putting on weight.

The Negative Side of Sugar
Sugar has a bad reputation for a reason. It is well known that sugar may contribute to obesity in children. This is partly because consuming large amounts of sugar causes insulin to spike and then drop, which can trigger overeating. Sugar has a low nutritional value and is a major contributor to cavities and tooth decay. 

The average American gets 20% of daily calories from sugar, which is twice as much as doctors recommend.  Some doctors believe that years of eating processed foods leads to repeated bouts of increased insulin, which can exhaust your pancreas, causing diabetes. Excess sugar may also trigger insulin resistance, which makes the body less able to reduce levels of blood sugar.

This doesn't mean that sugar causes diabetes; there's no clear biological link between the two. Sugar is a cause of obesity, which has been linked to heart disease and diabetes in adults, so minimizing the amount of refined sugar in your child's diet goes a long way toward good health later in life.

Does Sugar Cause Hyperactivity?
Many parents blame their child's hyperactivity on the sugary snack he had after school, or the sugar-laden cereal he ate at breakfast. You may be surprised to learn that studies have shown that sugar is not responsible for hyperactivity in children. Instead, parents' expectations of what sugar will do to a child are responsible for the belief that sugar causes hyperactivity.

When kids are brought together in an environment such as a birthday party, factors such as being in a group of kids and excitement about the event can lead to hyperactivity. Cake and ice cream are less to blame than the kids themselves.

Also Known as…
When you're checking out the nutrition label on a package of food, you have to look for more than just the word "sugar." Sugar comes disguised as many things, including sucrose, dextrose or glucose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, maltose, barley malt, mannitol, sorbitol, corn sweetener, evaporated or crystallized cane juice and fruit juice concentrate.

Unless there's a medical need to avoid sugar in your child's diet, there's no harm in allowing the occasional treat of cookies, cake or a glass of soda. To keep obesity at bay, don't let these become your child's preferred snacks. Instead, offer fresh fruits such as oranges, peaches, apples and pears that combine the sweetness kids crave with the vitamins and minerals their growing bodies need.

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