Why do children love sugar so much? It’s all biology’s fault. As young, growing, and somewhat vulnerable individuals, their bodies have a preprogrammed mechanism to help ensure energy prioritization to provide calories for growth. Young children have taste buds that are more sensitive to sugar than adults.
Sugars, of course, are a type of carbohydrate. Carbohydrate-rich foods are calorie dense, making them an excellent vehicle for the biological mechanism that promotes growth. Unfortunately, sugar—in its many forms—is plentiful and ubiquitous in Western diets, leading to overconsumption and, consequently, to a variety of health concerns.
The sugar and diabetes connection
Diabetes essentially involves the malfunction of an individual’s sugar (or blood glucose) uptake and processing mechanisms. The hormone insulin, made in the pancreas, is responsible for controlling the levels of glucose and tells the body what to do with the glucose in the system.
When the pancreas is making insulin, but not all of this insulin is being recognized by the body’s cells, glucose remains circulating in the blood. This is called insulin resistance and it can be the first step in developing type 2 diabetes.
Although it seems that consuming sugar doesn’t directly cause type 2 diabetes, being overweight is definitely a culprit. We also know that sugary foods and drinks contain a lot of calories, thus overconsuming them puts us at risk of weight gain.
Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight (which includes reducing intake of sugar-sweetened drinks and refined carbs), staying active by exercising regularly, and educating ourselves about their roles in staying healthy are all good strategies for reducing risk.
Junk food on the brain?
Are we changing how our children think and act? Our incredible brains are highly evolving entities, and newer evidence is now linking excessive calories to potentially detrimental brain changes affecting the reward system.
These changes may affect how junk food-loving teens will conduct themselves, potentially leading to poor cognitive control and impulsive actions. These conclusions suggest that helping adolescents and children form healthy habits early on could be crucial for minimizing these changes in their brains.
Because of children’s high sensitivity to calorie-dense foods that cause their reward systems to activate, it’s very tempting to utilize them as treats to control behaviour. Let’s consider the long-term impact this action has and think about what other methods we can employ instead.
Healthy habits—start them young
Helping children form good habits when it comes to eating can start when they’re very young. We can help them understand the balance between what we eat and how we feel; listening to their bodies to know when they’re hungry and when they’re full is a valuable first lesson.
Quick tips for healthy eating habits
- Serve healthy portions of fruits, veggies, protein foods, and whole grains.
- Start the day with a healthy breakfast.
- Encourage family meals together.
- Always have healthy snacks accessible and offer them regularly.
- Limit foods with added sugars.
- Make drinking water the norm when they’re thirsty.
- Encourage regular physical exercise.
- Form healthy sleep habits early on.
Supplements for children’s optimal health
When it comes to supplements, quality is everything. There are some key supplements available to ensure basic adequate nutrition in a young child:
- multivitamin (specific for children’s age group)
- omega-3s (fish, algal, or flaxseed oils)
- vitamin D (liquid formulations for infants and toddlers)
- probiotics (multispectrum)
Sweet or not-so-sweet facts?
A not-so-sweet fact: sugar-laden drinks, including soft drinks, iced tea, and even fruit juices, have been identified as culprits for weight gain and obesity—risk factors for type 2 diabetes—in both kids and adults.
A little sweeter: the most recent Canadian Community Health Survey results, published in Statistics Canada’s Health Reports, found that “percentages of sugary beverages consumed in 2015 were significantly lower than in 2004, which suggests a decrease in consumption across age groups.”
Dr. Robyn Prescott is a naturopathic physician who focuses on women’s health, hormone balancing, and pain management. She practises in both Vancouver and beautiful Kamloops, BC. drrobynprescott.com; Instagram: @drrobynprescott
This article was originally published in the August 2020 issue of alive Canada magazine, under the title “Aren’t your kids sweet enough?”