It probably comes as no surprise that sugar (and sugary foods and drinks) can be incredibly detrimental to a person’s health — especially a child’s. But what does all that sugar, especially refined sugar, do to kids’ bodies and how does sugar addiction affect them?
Well, if you’re like most parents, chances are you let your child have sugary snacks from time to time. Whether it is as a special treat as a reward for doing something good or if they get treats at school, birthday parties or from doting parents, it’s important to remember: the sugar they’re eating could wreak havoc on their little bodies.
And if you’ve seen the look on your kids’ face when you say, “Okay, that’s all for now,” you have probably thought that sugar addiction is real.
You’ve probably even told your friends: “My child is hooked on sugar!” The truth is, you might be right.
Several studies show that the consumption of sugar, especially in kids, can lead to addictive behaviors. These studies compare the neurochemical effects of sugar, as well as its effect on behavior, with those of more serious addictive substances. It should come as no surprise that there are significant parallels in how the body responds to both types of substances.1
So, there may be evidence that backs up your child’s seemingly insatiable sugar cravings. And while the connection between sugar and potential sugar addiction is scary enough on its own, according to the Center for Disease Control, “approximately 16% of children and adolescents’ total caloric intakes came from added sugars.” 2 That’s a lot of sugar-generated calories, which may not be good for your child’s health.
So, if you’re asking yourself, “Does my child have a sugar addiction?” there are several things you can do to help ease your child’s love of sugar.
What if Your Child is Hooked on Sweets?
If you think your child might have a sugar addiction — or they always have sugar cravings — you’re not alone.
Imagine the following scenario: your kids are going to visit Grandma and Grandpa. Upon arrival, they’re showered with hugs and kisses, and as they walk through the door, you’re greeted by the welcoming aroma of freshly baked cookies. Though you may meet these greeting with self-control and politely refuse the cookies, despite your impulse to eat them, your kids rush to the kitchen for the chocolate chip cookies!
Of course, this may be a “special treat” that they get when they visit Grandma and Grandpa, but when they eat that treat, it only encourages the addictive behavior.
Is Your Kid Hooked on Sugar?
How can you tell if your child is addicted to sugar?
Well, the first step is talking to their doctor about their diet, but there are things you can look at at home, as well.
For starters, next time they start begging for a sugary treat watch how they react when you say “no”. If they ask for something NOT sweetened instead, like some veggies… there’s a chance that they’re simply hungry. If they keep begging, or bad behavior escalates, sugar dependency may be at play.
What makes sugar so potentially addictive is the release of the chemical compound dopamine. Dopamine is a well-known chemical associated with the “feel good” feeling of satisfaction.
So, when your kiddo is asking for more sugar, they may actually want the rush that comes with sugar rather than the sugar itself!3 And while studies have yet to conclusively prove that sugar itself is truly addictive, the release of dopamine is reason enough for kids and adults to keep wanting more.
Sugar Around Every Corner!
Sugary snacks and drinks aren’t the only culprits to blame. A lot of common, everyday foods are packed full of sugars.
That fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt your family is so fond of? It’s loaded with 30 grams of sugar in that 8-ounce serving… that’s 13% sugar.4
Not only that, “healthy” cereals like bran flakes can contain 5 grams of sugar in a ¾ cup serving.
And while that may not be a ton of sugar, it can add up quickly when taken with the rest of your kids’ daily diet.
It is one thing to talk about sugar content in daily foods, but one way to see if your child has a sugar problem is to eliminate all processed sugars from their diet for a week. This means no fruit juices, breakfast cereals, sugary snacks, cookies, candy (aka everything they love), desserts… just about any packaged or wrapped goody. Then sit back and watch.
Has their behavior changed? If so, how? You may be alarmed at just how much they change — in the short term — when you cut out refined sugars from their diet. If you do see a big change in your child, there is thankfully a way to break them of their sugar dependence.
How To Reduce Refined Sugar Intake
While refined sugar seems to be everywhere you look, there are ways you can help break your child’s sugar cravings. But before you dive into how to help your child break their cravings, it is important to understand just what refined sugars are.
Refined sugars live by many different names. By and large, they are added sugars. For example, some foods have natural sugars (think of fruit, for example). Refined sugars have undergone an artificial, chemical process to “clean” (or in this case, refine) the sugars from their raw state to a state that is easier to use in food manufacturing.5
One of the easiest ways to eliminate (or at least reduce) refined sugars from your child’s diet is to give them more servings of the fruits they like when they ask for a snack. While fruits still contain sugars, they offer a lot of nutritive benefits that other manufactured foods do not.
How to Reduce Your Child’s High Fructose Corn Syrup Intake
Most people are not strangers to high fructose corn syrup. If you’ve ever had a popular soda or candy bar, you’ve had high fructose corn syrup. What you might not know though, is just how abundant this type of sugar is in many of the foods you consume on a daily basis. But first, what is high fructose corn syrup, exactly?
Well, high fructose corn syrup is a manufactured product that gets made by wet milling corn. In the United States, producers of high fructose corn syrup create it by “converting corn starch to a syrup that is nearly all dextrose”. From there, the dextrose-heavy syrup is processed and mixed with fructose, resulting in the ready-for-market high fructose corn syrup.
While the beverage industry is the primary market for this product, other industries use it, as well:
- Beverage industry: 41%
- Processed food manufacturers: 22%
- Cereal and bakery producers: 14%
- Multiple-use food manufacturers: 12%
- Dairy industry: 9%
- Confectionery industry: 1%6
As you can see, the prevalence of high fructose corn syrup across nearly the entire food industry makes it difficult, though not impossible, to break your child’s sugar addiction.
The easiest way to find out if the food in your pantry and refrigerator contains high fructose corn syrup is to look at the label. Before buying packaged or prepared foods, look at the ingredients label for high fructose corn syrup. Many places, especially grocery stores and independent stores, have ingredients lists on hand if a product doesn’t have a label directly on it.
What About Fruit?
As a general rule, fruit is healthy… when it’s in season, that is. The rest of the time, it just sends your body the signal to “fatten up for the winter.” So while it has nutritional benefits, it’s still heavy in sugar… so should be treated a little like candy and used in moderation only.
After all, sugar is still sugar, and overall fruit consumption shouldn’t exceed you or your children’s physicians’ recommended daily intake of sugar.
Sugar Consumption in Conclusion
As you can see, there’s no silver bullet when it comes to breaking a child’s sugar addiction.
However, there are several ways you can be proactive and help your child eat healthier while cutting down on their sugar consumption.
No matter what you do, you can feel better knowing that by reducing your child’s sugar consumption and watching what they eat, you’re giving them a happier, healthier future!
Kicking sugar to the curb… it can be done!
Dr. Gundry’s Spicy Ginger Cookie (Gluten-Free & Sugar-Free)
The Basic Science Behind Food Addiction