Consumption of junk food and added sugars might just change your child’s future. Learn why kids need to get the right kind of sugar to help their growing bodies. And why some of our kids are changing their brains with too much junk food.
What’s the deal with sugar?
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.
Healthy habits—start them young
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 behavior. Let’s consider the long-term impact this action has and think about what other methods we can employ instead.
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.
Written by Robyn Prescott, ND