We went on a quest to find out if kids should be sugar zero. Meaning can they survive and thrive with zero sugar. This would exclude all forms of sugar like granulated sugar, honey, cake, candies, fruit juice, ice cream, and sugar in processed food like ketchup and sauces. We call all that free sugar because they are added sugars and not naturally occurring. The only exception would be fruit. With the advent of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and massive obesity in children, it may be time for kids to be on a sugar zero diet.
DO KIDS NEED SUGAR AND WHY NOT?
Children do not need sugar. At least not free sugar. It is true our body, especially the brain needs sugar to function. Our body will convert all food into sugar in the form of glucose for use by the brain and as energy for breathing, physical activity and to keep our organs running.
If we do not eat sugar the body can easily make sugar (glucose) from the proteins, carbs and vegetables that we eat. The issue that has happened is that we have given children so much sugar the body has got used to using sugar as the first source to make glucose.
The body is designed in such a way as to prefer quick access to glucose as opposed to getting it from stored reserves which takes longer. In the bodies of children who have no access to free sugar, it will find energy from stored glycogen and fats to make glucose. The older you get the harder it is to use fat as a primary fuel if you have been addicted to sugar for a few years..Which why it is important to train the body from a young age to use energy from stored reserves. Excess sugar makes you store far more energy in the form fat than you need. This fat, created from sugar leads to a fatty liver, type2diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and nearly 14 other diseases.
WHY KIDS NEED TO BE SUGAR ZERO
1. Immune System – Sugar depresses the body’s immune system, making kids more vulnerable to diseases and infections. As this article in Today’s parent says there is a dramatic rise in cold and flu after Halloween and Christmas. This Fox News article points to a weakened immune system, colds, coughs, allergies and croup among many side effects of sugar in children.
This is because bacteria thrives in a sugar rich environment and is their food of choice. Over a lifetime it can create type 2 diabetes and a host of other illnesses like cancer, and obesity. Children are also developing non alcoholic fatty liver disease as this Us News article says, and it is primarily attributed to a sugar rich diet.
2. Tooth decay – Sugar is great for dentists. While tooth decay has improved from 50% to 43.1% in American children, the bad news is that tooth decay remains the most common disease of U.S. children aged 6 to 19 according to this article. While we could not find data on tooth decay from 50 years ago, we are confident tooth decay was much less because sugar consumption was much lower. This fabulously detailed study from the Journal of public health found sugar and yogurt have a powerful effect on tooth decay as does constant snacking. While brushing teeth might reduce decay it is not nearly enough to compensate for a high sugar diet. The best way to prevent tooth decay is to eliminate sugar. Children’s dental care is very expensive for parents and time consuming to attend to.
3. Type 2 diabetes - Think your preschool child cannot get type 2 diabetes? Think again. This science daily article showcases a 3 year old with type 2 diabetes. The primary causes were poor nutrition, snacking too much causing constant insulin spikes, stress and lack of sleep which lead to more sugar cravings. The Mayo clinic attributes type 2 diabetes risk factors in children as weight, inactivity, family history, race and gestational diabetes. If you look at it closely all these factors have an underlying sugar issues. African Americans have a culture of high sugar consumption. But now regardless of race kids are equally exposed to sugar. High consumption of sugar by default leads to weight gain.
4. Obesity – Sugar is addictive. It promotes over eating so your child will be constantly hungry. That over eating leads to packing on the pounds which leads to an increase visceral fat, a fatty liver, adds subcutaneous fat and ultimately to diabetes. Children’s bodies just like adults’ store sugar that has not been used immediately, in the form glycogen. When the glycogen storage shed (which is a small) beoomes full, it stores further excess as fat.
Parents feel that the children will burn off the sugar with activity. Unfortunately this is not the case with most children. This because children are consuming so much sugar they would have to run for miles to burn off that sugar. According to this EurekAlerrt article of June 2018 article toddlers aged 19-23 months average more than 7 teaspoons of sugar per day. A toddler cannot burn off that much sugar even if they could run all day.
5. Brain impairment – Children who eat high levels of sugar, almost always show poor concentration levels. That affects their academic performance as well as ability in sports. According to this USC article while not age specific, states that sugar reduces our BDNF factor, resulting in the inability to learn new things, impairs memory and is linked to Alzheimer’s, depression and dementia. This study found prenatal and childhood sugar consumption may adversely effect cognition. This interesting Netflix documentary called the ” The Magic Pill ” documents the case of a mom who took out sugar and saw a dramatic improvement in a developmentally challenged child.
But how can that be when the brain need sugar to function you ask. How much glucose your brain needs is hotly debated. The guesses vary from 30g to 120g per day. The main point however is that the body can get this glucose from the body. The body only makes glucose that is necessary and not in excess. High sugar consumption in contrast bombards the brain with too much sugar. As this Harvard article states, the brain needs sugar but too much will destroy it.
6. Violence and irritability – While the research is far from conclusive as noted in this article, we think there is some merit to sugar causing violence in children. Certainly our personal experience observing children in 4 preschools over ten years leads us to believe there is a direct correlation. We noticed children, especially special needs kids tend to bite, hit and can be quite abusive when the sugar crash happens. When insulin spikes from sugar, the body releases lower levels of the sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) as this science daily article illustrates. That in turn leads to higher levels of testosterone and estrogen. Higher levels of testosterone as this study shows is associated with aggressive behavior.This goes to the fundamental aspect of the sugar crash. When you blood sugar goes down you become irritable. While an adult could possibly handle the sugar crash better due to social conditioning, children have poor impulse control. When the sugar crash happens, they will lash out. Without proper social conditioning this sugar high can manifest itself in serious anger management issues in children.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF YOU TAKE OUT SUGAR
Children will not die and suffer from a debilitating illness if you take out sugar from their diet. If they are already addicted to sugar for sure they will experience sugar withdrawal symptoms. Almost like a crack addict demanding their drugs. They will throw temper tantrums, become moody, irritable. Relax. This will last after about seven days. During this time they will refuse all none sweet food. Don’t be alarmed. Let them not eat. It is part of the process, as they wean themselves off sugar. Eventually they will get hungry and will start to eat healthy foods on offer, from a nice piece of steak to vegetables.
Moderation in sugar will not work. As Dr. Robert Lustig in this famous video said, sugar is addictive. If you have a little you will want more and more. So the best strategy is to completely cut children off sugar from an early age. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can cut down sugar gradually.
Ideally you want to prevent children from eating sugar from birth, so they never get a taste of it. Proper training and your own health habits will play a part. Unfortunately poorly educated parents usually do not have the knowledge to understand this. If you reading this, then you one of those skilled parents who understands that sugar is an issue and want to do something about it. Preventing a sugar addiction should be reinforced with education. But it is easier to train your children not to like sugar. If a parent can keep their children off sugar for the first 8 years of their life, there is a good chance it becomes a lifetime habit.
Look at this chart, sugar does not have any essential nutrients. It is simply very addictive and high in calories. It has no fiber, minerals or vitamins. An empty calorie. Sure it gives you energy, but at the cost of the sugar crash and host of 18 diseases later on life.
ARE SUGAR RECOMMENDATION FOR KIDS RIGHT?
Do you ever wonder why we have a daily value for vitamins and minerals on food but not a daily value for sugar? The reason is simple. You or your children do not need sugar. That is why no government has recommendations for the daily value of sugar you need. You simply do not need sugar.
The American Heart Association recommends a maximum limit of 6 tsp’s of sugar for children. Incredible! They also recommend a maximum 6 tsp’s of sugar for adult females with a much larger mass. Given their track record of bad advice, their credibility is severely suspect. Take a look at their corporate sponsors who are mostly drug companies.
Of course that 6 tsp limit is better than what children actually consume. A representative study of toddlers cited in this article showed that 99% of toddlers aged between 19 to 23 months eat over seven teaspoons of added sugar each day on average.
The FDA that bastion of healthy advice and consumer protection (sarcasm) recommends a maximum of 40 grams of sugar. That is nearly ten teaspoons. The WHO another idiotic international body recommends reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake (strong recommendation) and a further reduction of the intake of free sugars to below 5% of total energy intake (conditional recommendation). At that rate your children will be obese diabetic patients before they finish high school.
9 STRATEGIES TO WEAN KIDS OFF SUGAR
If you decided to wean your children off sugar here are some steps to do it. But first watch this video which chronicles the journey of a mom who decided to cut sugar from her kid’s diet. In order to be successful you should have a proper strategy. Being harsh and dictatorial will back fire. Be smart and use these winning strategies.
1. Lead by example - You the adult will have to go sugar zero. If you indulge in sugar that is patently unfair and kids will learn a bad lesson. Lead by example.
2. Stop buying sugar - Stop buying sugar and let your stores of sugary treats in the house go to zero. If it is in the house kids will find it. Don’t hide your own stockpile of sweets in the house. They will find it.
3. Offer healthy sugar replacements – Offer fruits and sweet vegetables like beets, sweet corn and carrots. These tend to have some sugar but it is a good first step and they have plenty of nutrients. Any child who refuses to eat their veggies will now find these vegetables very tasty.
4. Hydrate - Instead of fruit juice offer them lemon or lime water. Stock up on fresh limes and lemon. Get one of those carbonation kits to offer them carbonated water with a squeeze of lime or lemon. Don’t overdo the carbonation.
5. Make fresh savory food – Make healthy fresh food at home that are savory. Add healthy levels of protein, vegetables and good fat like coconut oil, olive oil, grass fed butter which will keeps kids from from feeling hungry constantly. Avoid the sugar laden cereals at breakfast and give them a bacon and eggs, lentil soup or a tuna salad. There is no rule saying you cannot have dinner foods for breakfast. That is just a marketing ploy to associate cereals with breakfast.
6. Prepare healthy snacks – Keep healthy snacks ready when children get hungry. Avoid the sweet yogurt, the granola bars and replace them with a carrots, celery stalks with a healthy dip, nuts or sugar free pork rinds you make at home. Children actually do not need to snack. Every time you snack you spike your insulin levels. If you give them proper meals they will have no desire to snack. Besides snacking frequently leads to more dental issues.
7. Increase fats – Give them healthy fat heavy foods pork belly, olive oil, Salmon and things made with coconut oil which will keep them satiated without the need for bringing on sugary snacks.
8. Sleep – Studies show sleep deprivation leads us to reach for sugary food. . Ensuring children get a good nights sleep is essential. That means get them tired, washed and fed and put them to sleep early so they get 8 hours of sleep. Not just when they are in preschool but well into their teenage years. It will improve their academic skills and enable them to perform better at sports. If they can’t sleep consider using cold showers. It is a wonderful way to reinvigorate the system.
9. Read the riot act to grandparents – Unfortunately grand parents can be the biggest culprits when it comes to sugar. They bribe their way into the hearts and minds of young children with sugary treats. Sit down with them and tell them no sugar and the reason for it. Ask them to make to make time consuming healthy treats like these. Tell them they will be fined and sent the medical bills if they give your kids sugar. Think of none sugary ways grand parents can curry favor with grand children and tell them about it.
10. Make fresh food – Parents who do not cook and rely on frozen dinners, take out and canned food tend to create kids who are addicted to sugar. This is because processed foods tend to have high levels of sugar, salt and low fat. Start making fresh food and get your children to help even at a young age. Children as young as two can help you from setting the table to more complex task such as squeezing a lemon. It might take a little longer, but cooking skills learnt at this age will lead to better food choices in children.
WHY PARENTS FAIL WITH ELIMINATING SUGAR
There is enormous social pressure to conform. You are often accused of being unreasonable by grandparents, other parents and friends. The power of marketing by the sweet industry is such that you have no hope in hell of making any headway. The social expectation to participate in the Halloween sugar madness is enormous. Christmas brings another onslaught of sweet temptations that very few parents can fight. Walk into a supermarket and you will see there are all kind of sugar enticements right down to the check out stand where the pressure becomes unbelievable. Imagine if they stocked healthy snacks like nuts at the checkout stand? On top of this, parents themselves are also addicted to sugar, and will often hide and eat their sugar. This sets a bad example as children will jump on your credibility and will not treat you with any respect.
Let’s face it, once a child is addicted to sugar, there is no stopping them. In the face of massive advertising targeted at children, peer influence at school and grandparents spoiling them with sugar to curry favor, it is a battle most parents lose. Sometimes it is the stressed parents, who find it easier to shove some sugar down the children’s throats and keep them quiet until they get stuff done.
At the end of the day sugar is a poison. Cutting sugar involves a serious commitment. Taking half measures like reducing sugar will not work. You can have an occasional treat, like once a month. Remember however once your child has sugar it takes a few days to recover from it, because it induces more cravings for sweet treats as well as over eating. After eating sugar, you have to watch your child extra diligently for a few days and offer them healthy snacks with renewed gusto to bring them back to normal.
The key to getting children off sugar is to educate them. Show them how people who eat sugar look much older. Show them type 2 diabetes patients and how much they suffer. Illustrate to them how getting obesity will deprive them of opportunities in a great careers and the ability to do fun physical activities. That is powerful message which combined with the right tools will work to eliminate sugar.
It seems silly to spend so much time and money raising children and then poison them with sugar. Academic results suffer, health suffers and relationships they have with others will suffer. Healthy children on the other hand will go on to become very successful. Most importantly they will have the means and the ability to look after you in your old age. You reap what you sow.
- International sceptic Forum – Do kids need sugar
- SFGate - Calorie intake for children
- Helgi Library – Sugar Consumption Per Capita
- The Sydney Morning Herald – Dentists plead with parents to reduce children’s sugar intake
- Huffpost – Kids’ Cavities On The Rise
- Today’s parents – My family cut sugar
- USC Keck School of Medicine – What sugar does to your brain?
- YouTube – I banned sugar