POV: You’re at a kid’s birthday party and your child is ignoring the cheese sandwiches, much preferring the jam.
They’ve bypassed the carrot and cucumber sticks and are happily playing Jenga with the chocolate fingers and party rings.
They’ve politely declined the water to drink and have necked a bottle of high sugar juice.
In precisely ten minutes they are going to be bouncing off the walls and giggling hysterically at anyone and anything.
Fast forward an hour and you’re home and on the receiving end of a tired, irritable child, who is demanding more food, while crashed out on the sofa.
Parties and other special occasions are often full of high sugar foods and drink, and if you’ve ever been in that scenario of your kids being high as a kite during such an occasion, you will likely have blamed a sugar ‘high’, because it seems the obvious reason for your child’s wild behaviour.
However, it has been said that the idea of a sugar ‘high’ is mythical – no matter what the Royals might claim.
‘A sugar “high” is a bit of a misleading term,’ Hannah Hope, a registered nutritionist, tells Metro.co.uk.
‘What tends to happen is that when your child consumes sugar, it raises their blood sugar, causing insulin to be released, a hormone that helps carry glucose into their cells, so that it can be used for energy. The body uses this as a quick, accessible form of energy.
‘As it is absorbed so quickly, though, it then causes the inevitable crash afterwards when adrenaline and then cortisol are released, as the body thinks it’s in danger.’
So, it’s not the sugar itself that causes the high, but the process in which this simple carbohydrate is quickly broken down into your child’s bloodstream.
Hannah adds: ‘It is the adrenaline that gives your child energy and causes their heart to beat faster, their brain to be more alert and their body to go into “fight or flight”, so they can also become anxious and jittery. Their bodies then start to look for more sugary foods to combat those feelings.’
Less of a sugar high, then, than a series of crashing lows.
No parent wants to be a party pooper, but for some children, particularly those who only tend to have sugar at parties/special occasions, the sugar ‘high’ can be quite hard to manage. Throw in the excitement of a bouncy castle, and it’s no wonder some parents dread taking their kids to a party.
There’s a lot of talk around kids consuming sugar, and while it is no bad thing that children are limited in the amount of it that they eat, it doesn’t need to be banned altogether.
Instead, sugar should be eaten as part of a balanced lifestyle – food is food at a party or not, so children should be allowed biscuits and sweets but, as Hannah suggests, alongside other important foods.
Ensuring children don’t go too hard on the sweets – and balancing things out with other food items if they do – is key in preventing a hyper child running around and throwing a tantrum.
‘You can help to curb the symptoms of a sugar “high” by feeding kids protein, complex carbohydrates and/or fats alongside their sugary foods,’ suggests Hannah, ‘as this will slow down the release of sugar into their bloodstream.’
This means making sandwiches on wholemeal bread, using nut butters and cream cheese as a filling or a dip (allergies taken into consideration) and swapping juice for water or milk.
It also means putting in some boundaries while your child is enjoying the party food, to ensure they get a bit of everything. So, if they want biscuits and crips, they need to have a sandwich and some veggie sticks too. This isn’t you telling them they can’t have anything but teaching them how to have a healthy balance instead.
Hannah also suggests: ‘Keep their hydration up too with plain water, to help their body manage what is going on.’
And when they have the inevitable comedown? Avoid more sugar.
How to manage your child’s sweets habit:
The NHS recommends no more than:
- 19g of free sugar a day for four to six year-olds – the equivalent of five sugar cubes.
- 24g a day for seven to 10 year olds – the equivalent of six sugar cubes
- 30g a day for 11 years and over – the equivalent of seven sugar cubes
A free sugar is one that is added to foods, rather than something naturally occurring as you would find in fruit.
There is no guide limit for under fours, but it is recommended to avoid sugar sweetened drinks and food with added sugar to it.
Looking at your child’s sugar intake over the course of a week, rather than day to day can be more helpful, as some days they may have more than the recommended than others. As long as the total for the week hasn’t been exceeded, you should be fine.
Some other key tips:
- Do not use sweets (or any food) as a reward – Using them in this way can make them more desirable to children than if they had not been used as a reward and can unintentionally lead to your child relying on food/sweets to deal with their emotions.
- Serve sweets without any stipulations
- Come from a neutral place when giving kids sweets and other sugary foods
- Allow them regular opportunities to have them as part of regular, structured meals and snacks.
- Allow them the chance to explore what amounts feel good in their bodies, without any interference.
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