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Children often complain of being hungry between meals and then at mealtime refuse to eat. It's important to recognise that sugary snacks or drinks given between meals will affect a child's appetite as well as growth and behaviour. Sugar can contribute to nutrient deficiencies by providing energy without providing nutrients. When sweet treats become the norm (more than weekly) your child is getting too much sugar.
Here are symptoms that will let you know your little one might have had too much sugar …
When children are hungry it is easy to give them a 'treat' or quick fix to silence their cries. But if foods containing essential nutrients are going by the wayside, the rule must be 'Nutrient-dense foods should always come first'. When claims that even one soft drink can affect their health, it becomes a no-brainer to give them away in place of an apple.
Don't feed them foods that they can't use. There are 161 calories in a 375g can of cola which contain little if no nutritional value (sugar, colour, food acid and caffeine) where as a whole wheat muffin contains the similar calories but has six grams of protein (that helps to satisfy hunger), 4.4 grams of fibre (to keep them regular), 175g of calcium (for growing bones) 1.6g of iron (for healthy blood) and traces of most of the B group vitamins needed for bodily functions.
The obvious sign of too much sugar is tooth rot. Sugar breaks down in the mouth and bacteria present combines to form an acid that dissolves tooth enamel within 20-30 minutes of eating sugary foods and drinks. It's important to destroy the bacteria with regular brushing, mouth wash or if these are unavailable at the time, you can at least neutralise the acid with aged cheese.
Even with milk teeth, limiting sweets and sugary drinks can give your child the best start to healthy teeth. Regular six months checkups with a dentist can give you an indication if they are getting too much sugar in their diet. Fruit juice may be high in sugar but it passes the teeth quickly (although fills them up enough not to want healthier foods), but sticky foods high in sugar like lollies or even dried fruit are more likely to create damage if consumed regularly.
After one year old toddlers appetites diminish as their growth slows in comparison. They have more of a demand for food during growth spurts that may occur sporadically, explaining why sometimes they have an insatiable appetite and other times seem to live on air and water. What is important to realise is that during the demanding days their bodies cry out for essential vitamins and minerals for growth, not just a tummy filler.
Researchers at the University of Health Sciences/Chicago examined whether eating breakfast has any advantageous effects on late-morning mood, satiety or cognitive performance and found that the children who missed breakfast were less likely to be able to concentrate at school. Make it a rule to offer water before breakfast (no juice, even watered down), they will soon feel like breakfast.
While researchers have shown there is no link between sugar and ADHD, the symptoms (generally recognised by distractibility and lack of social skills) can show when foods with no nutritional value replace meals with essential vitamins and minerals for brain function. A child with deficiencies in magnesium, zinc, fatty acids and B group vitamins are more than likely to show some symptoms of ADHD.
There is evidence that children with depression may have insensitivity to insulin and impaired glucose tolerance. A doctor can order test to detect such abnormalities.
While Australian soil is low in magnesium and usually consumed by eating green leafy vegetables, it is no wonder that Aussie kids are naturally low in magnesium. Magnesium is the mineral needed for our muscles to relax, so not eating enough can cause cramps and even joint pain. If your child never gets hungry because they are always grazing on snacks there is a chance that they will never be hungry enough to try essential greens they need.
Toddlers could have trouble digesting certain sugars which will affect their internal gut flora causing loose bowel actions and possibly change their acid/alkaline levels, meaning they are more prone to build up of bacteria, and yeast infections. Cut out sugary drinks and sweets and give them a good quality plain, no added sugar yogurt with acidophilus, or a child's pro-biotic to help restore good bacteria in their gut.
Miss one meal of nutrient rich foods and academic performance is affected. Missing breakfast because they are full on juice will mean the brain, which uses three times the amount of glucose than other organs will show in a toddler's inability to make straight forward decisions.
Sugar rich foods are high GI foods, give the blood a quick glucose hit which their brain may be craving, but the body adjusts fast to regulate blood sugar levels, meaning that they will be soon have be low in blood sugar and energy. For very active children, feed them low GI foods as the sugars takes longer to break down giving them more energy for longer periods of time. See a list of low GI foods here.
Scaly, flaky skin can be caused as a deficiency of protein and minerals. As the body competes for nutrients (vital organs, the heart, brain, which take priority) the skin is the first to show signs of deficiencies and sugar just adds to the battle. Omega 3-6 and 9 rich foods look after cell integrity so make sure you are including foods such as fish in their diet.