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Understanding Sugar Addiction in Children

It is official. Sugar is an addictive substance.

Actually, it has been official for quite a while. A 2008 study published in Neuroscience &Behavioral Reviews concluded that sugar meets the criteria for a substance of abuse and may be addictive when people binge on this food.

This news affects all of us, but it’s most damaging to our children.

The problem with sugar

Some may argue that there’s nothing wrong with sugar because it’s a natural substance. This is true. The problem is that we’ve extracted this substance from its natural source and saturated our food supply with sugar. In other words, our children are getting too much sugar in their diets. In fact, the average American today consumes nearly 152 pounds of sugar every year.

All sugars aren’t bad, but excess sugar can cause many problems in the body. Excess sugar is implicated as a root cause of the following health issues:

  • Obesity – Foods with extra sugars are a source of calories that are devoid of nutrients, which can lead to weight gain and obesity.
  • Diabetes – Sugar doesn’t directly cause diabetes, but it does lead to excess weight gain which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
  • High blood pressure – Excess sugar may raise blood pressure and increase heart rate.
  • Heart disease – Too much sugar in the diet can increase your child’s risk
  • Tooth decay – Bacteria in your child’s mouth use sugar to produce acids that can dissolve and damage his or her teeth.

Sugar as an addiction

Sugar creates a reaction in your brain like no other food. In reality, it acts more like a drug than any food you’ll ever eat. When you eat something sweet, your brain releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is often called a feel-good chemical because it is associated with pleasure. This is the same reaction you would get if you consume any other addictive substance.

One study even indicates that sugar addiction may lead to alcoholism in adulthood. The Journal of Psychoactive Drugs study examines the correlation between sweet cravings and alcohol and drug dependency.

How to kick the sugar habit

The more sugar your kids have, the more they will want. As they eat more and more sugar, their taste buds become accustomed to the sweetness, and these sugar cravings can follow them into adulthood. If you start now, you can help wean your children off of this addictive substance and lay the foundation for a healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips to help your child avoid a life of sugar addiction.

  • Practice what you preach – Set a good example for your children by avoiding sweets in your diet too. If you don’t have sugary foods around the house, your kids won’t be in the habit of having them.
  • Read labels – Hidden sugars are a major problem. To combat this issue, you must learn how to identify sugar in all forms. Anything that ends with the suffix “ose” is likely sugar. Some examples are dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, and maltose. Also, avoid high-fructose corn syrup and be wary of anything that contains fruit juice. Although fruit juice is natural, it is a source of added sugar.
  • Water-down fruit juices – According to the American Heart Association, children should have less than 25 grams of sugar daily. A typical 8-ounce cup of fruit juice may have as many as 23 grams of sugar. Straight water is the best choice but watered down juice is better than drinking juice straight. Try using a third cup of juice to a cup of water.
  • Avoid refined starches – Refined starches act like sugar in the body and can interfere with glucose absorption. This includes white bread, white rice, white pasta and anything made with white flour. These starches are an issue because the fiber has been removed, so they are quickly digested and cause a blood sugar spike. Whenever possible, give your child whole grains instead.

There's nothing wrong with dietary sugar and carbohydrates, but the problem lies in excess sugars. Do your best to avoid all sources of refined sugars in your child's diet, and he or she may avoid sugar addiction and its related health problems for a lifetime.

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