5 Stealthy Ways Sugar Harms Your Child

5 Stealthy Ways Sugar Harms Your Child

By Brigitte Factor, MS, BCHN

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We all know that too much sugar isn't good for us. But do you know why? You might be surprised to learn what it's doing to your child's health. 

First, let's all get on the same page about what I mean by "sugar." Sugar can refer to different types of carbohydrates. Most of us think of the white powdery substance that we use for baking as sugar. That type of sugar is called sucrose. It's composed of two molecules, one is fructose, and one is glucose.  Glucose is the carbohydrate our cells use to make energy. Fructose is processed by the liver and stored as glycogen or made into triglyceride. Sugar has many names on a food label. Most food sources of sugar contain a combination of both glucose and fructose.  

On average each American consumes 129 pounds of sugar per year (1). That's 40 teaspoons of sugar per day.  It was only 200 years ago that the average American was consuming 18 pounds of sugar per year.  That’s a dramatic increase with harmful consequences.

 Let's look at how all that sugar is damaging our bodies. 

1. Increases nutrient depletion.

When we consume sugar, it goes through a series of biochemical reactions to get turned into energy.  Each of those reactions requires nutrients to work properly. We get these nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and other cofactors from our food. Processed sugars are devoid of these nutrients. They have been stripped away during the refining process. As a result, our body has to use its own nutrient stores to metabolize refined carbohydrates.   

Excess sugar consumption can lead to nutrient deficiencies. When we consume refined foods that are devoid of these vitamins and minerals, then we are setting ourselves up for nutrient deficiencies that can lead to health problems.  The most common deficiencies are magnesium, calcium, chromium, thiamine, and folate (2). Every time you choose to fill up on a processed food you are displacing nutrient-dense foods and compounding the lack of nutrition in the diet.

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2.  Increases diabetes risk.

Our bodies are designed to regulate the amount of glucose in our blood with precise control. When our blood sugar fluctuates outside of normal ranges, signals are sent in the form of hormones to bring blood glucose back into balance. Insulin is the primary hormone that helps lower blood glucose by shuttling it out of the bloodstream and into the cells. Normal fasting blood glucose is between 80 - 100 mg/dL. This equates to 1 teaspoon of sugar in the entire blood volume.   

Consuming an average of 40 teaspoons of sugar per day causes our pancreas to go into overdrive to pump out enough insulin to keep glucose levels in check. Over time the cells get tired of hearing the signal from insulin and stop responding by closing the door to glucose. This is called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance strongly increases your risk of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes, but now it is becoming increasingly common in children.

3. Contributes to hormone imbalances

Never in the history of the human race have we had an emergency need to lower blood sugar until this century.  When our blood sugar rises rapidly after a carb-heavy meal our hormonal signals are sent into a panic to keep up with the rapid rise in glucose.   Overproduction of insulin causes the blood glucose to fall below normal range which sends a stress signal to secrete cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone that helps the muscles release stored glucose in emergency situations.

High insulin levels also signal excess androgen production and lowers sex hormone binding globulin (i.e. it binds up less sex hormones). This cascade of events creates excess estrogen and testosterone in the blood and is taxing our endocrine system. All of this can lead to hormonal imbalances, and increase the risk of conditions like PCOS (3) and Thyroiditis (4).

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4. Increases behavior problems

Blood sugar swings not only disrupt our hormones but they also impact our brain chemistry as well. Research has shown that sugar consumption strongly correlates with aggressive and restless behaviors in young children (5).  The stress hormones that are triggered by blood sugar swings exacerbate aggressive behavior and lead to hyperactivity, anxiety, and attention difficulties (6).

 Sugar also stimulates the reward centers in our brain similar to cocaine. In fact, one study showed that sugar was more addicting than cocaine (7). Excess sugar consumption promotes addictive and aggressive behaviors in kids.

5. Suppress the immune system

Sugar also weakens our immune system and promotes chronic inflammation. Excess dietary sugar can suppress our immune function for several hours (8). High blood glucose can disrupt our immune cells ability to identify and destroy pathogens (9).

Insulin resistance also promotes inflammation, and inflammation increases insulin resistance. This vicious cycle makes it harder for our immune system to do its job effectively, leaving us more vulnerable to infections.

For the sake of our children's health, it's critical to pay attention to the amount of sugar they are consuming. Read the labels and make an effort to limit foods with added sugar. A good rule of thumb is to choose foods that have no more than 5 grams of added sugar per serving.

It's even more important to make sure your child has access to nutrient dense foods to help replenish their body and build resiliency at the cellular level. Foods straight from nature like fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, whole grains, and quality animal products are going to provide the best nutrition for your child. Our children deserve the best we can give them. So, let's give them real food.

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(1) https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/gallery/chart-detail/?chartId=58332

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4975866/

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3277302/

(4) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/dme.13420

(5) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01260524

(6) http://psycnet.apa.org/record/1981-03606-001

(7) https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0000698

(8) https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/26/11/1180/4732762

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20674073

About The Author

Brigitte Factor is Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition with additional certifications as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Restorative Wellness Specialist and Registered Yoga Teacher. With over a decade of researching nutrition, yoga and functional medicine her mission is to educate families about the healing power of real food. You can learn more at https://www.brigittefactor.com