For many children, Halloween is their favourite holiday. This is probably because of one thing: candy. As a parent, it can be challenging to manage knowing that reducing how much sugar kids are consuming is becoming increasingly important. Reports show that children are consuming a lot of sugar: from sugary drinks and processed “kid” food to their favourite treats. Many health organizations including World Health Organization recommend that there is a general need to reduce sugar intake. You might be thinking “I don’t add any sugar to my child’s food!” but most added sugar in the diet comes from processed food and drinks (even “all natural” and “no sugar added” juice), and it adds up quickly.
Effects Of Sugar On Children
Although you may have been told that sugar “has no effect whatsoever” on your child by well-meaning relatives, other parents, even medical professionals, there is ample evidence that today’s manufactured sweet foods do have harmful effects on children.
Children are young, with growing and developing bodies. This makes them more prone to the negative impacts of these foods.
Sugar & Dental Health
Sugar consumption can have a very negative impact on dental health. Research has consistently shown that a high sugar intake is associated with increased risk of dental caries (cavities) in children. Sugar is the preferred food for harmful bacteria in the mouth that produce acids, which can destroy tooth enamel and lead to cavities.
Sugar Impacts Immune System Function
Sugar reduces the immune system's ability to fight off infection, resulting in a weakened defense and possibly more illnesses.
Research has shown that white blood cells are 40% less effective at killing pathogenic bacteria when a person consumes 100 grams of sugar.
This is about as much as found in 16oz of soda. Sadly, this is the approximate amount of sugar most American kids consume in one day.
White blood cells also need Vitamin C to destroy bacteria and viruses. Sugar impacts your white blood cells by competing for space in those cells with Vitamin C. Sugar and Vitamin C are similar in their chemical structure. Sugar “mimics” Vitamin C and replaces it in the white blood cells.
Sugar Impacts Learning
Studies have shown that sugar consumption reduces memory and learning capacity in younger subjects.
The hippocampus is the part of the brain which is crucial for forming memories and organizing and storing memories. This is the area of the brain directly impacted by sugar.
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Sugar Can Be Addictive
Sweet foods are highly desirable due to the impact sugar has on the reward system of the brain. In fact, sugar may have addictive qualities .
The mesolimbic dopamine system of the brain is precisely where the neurotransmitter dopamine is released by neurons in response to a rewarding event. Activation of this system leads to intense feelings of reward that can result in cravings and addiction. This in turn creates the desire to repeat the behavior over and over because it feels really good.
Sugar Affects Mood, Sleep & Behavior
Sugar-rich foods can also impact the neurotransmitters that help keep your kids’ moods stable.
Consuming sugar stimulates the release of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin. Constantly over-activating these serotonin pathways can deplete the limited supplies of this neurotransmitter, which can contribute to symptoms of depression, Chronic sugar consumption also leads to higher blood sugar levels Both these factors have been linked to inflammation in the brain. Some research has suggested that this inflammation may be one possible cause of depression.
Teenagers may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of sugar on mood.
Sugar Replaces Healthier Foods
Sugar-sweetened foods eventually edge out healthier fare from a child’s diet. The more added sugar children have in their diets, the less likely they are to eat quality protein from vegetables, fruits, animal sources and naturally occurring fats.
Consuming too much sugar contributes to malnutrition because kids eat too many calories and too much volume (from sugary foods) but insufficient nutrients (from healthy whole foods).
With too much sugar in the diet and a reliance on the taste of sweet foods, children may struggle to accept other flavors, such as the bitter taste of many green vegetables. This may prevent children’s taste buds from maturing, impacting the ability to develop the ability to appreciate, and eat, a variety of foods.
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Further Impacts Of Sugar
A high intake of sugar is also associated with an increased risk of chronic disease later in life, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Eating sugar leads to a rise in glucose (sugar) in the blood. This rise has been associated with changes to the level of certain fats in the blood, specifically an increase in triglycerides and a decrease in HDL cholesterol. This can lead to higher risk of heart disease.
A high intake of sugar can also lead to excess weight gain, which is linked to both heart disease and diabetes risk.
Every little step you take to reduce sugar from your family’s diet benefits your kids’ overall health. The question is, how can you reduce your kids’ sugar intake without taking the fun out of Halloween?
Top 10 Tips for Surviving Halloween
If Halloween treats and other sweets are part of your family culture, there are ways to reduce your sugar consumption, especially around this time of the year:
- Real food first! Be sure your kids (and you) have a healthy, balanced, protein-packed meal and full stomachs before indulging in the cakes, cookies, cupcakes, candy.
- Remove the worst offending sugary foods in your child’s loot bag (and in your household in general). If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, or are not sure what the chemical concoction or food dye is, please do not eat it.
- Make your own healthy sweet treats. Although home-made treats still contain added sugars (even if they are the healthier kind), you have more control of the amount and other ingredients, making them more nutrient dense than processed alternatives.
- Swap it out: allow your children to keep a few pieces of candy and turn the rest into a candy fairy or “Switch Witch” who will replace the candy with a non-food reward or healthier sweet alternatives.
- Create a limit: Set a limit on the quantity of sugary foods kids can eat per day. You may choose to allow a little more on weekends or holidays
- Movement – get kids moving their bodies! Sing, dance, hula hoop, make crafts, jump, run, play!
- Let the kids eat treats with their meal so that the healthier foods and nutrients help to counterbalance the sugar and chemicals.
- Keep the sweets out of sight (and out of mind).
- Slowly clean up: Throw out a few Halloween candies or junk foods each day and clean up the pantry at the end of Halloween week.
- Lead by example: The best way to encourage healthy eating is to eat well yourself.
Keep Halloween Fun
Over-regulating sugar consumption or banning all candy around Halloween can take the fun out of the holiday. Remember: be a role model and maintain some structure, teaching your child how to appropriately indulge on this spooky holiday and the upcoming holiday season.