Family Health

Sugar Rush: How Much Sugar Is Too Much?

‘Tis the season to be jolly! Whether it’s Christmas cookies or holiday cakes, this time of year can mean a lot of headaches for parents trying to avoid hyperactive kids. But do you really know how sugar works? Does it really make kids bounce off the walls?

Sugar is a carbohydrate

Believe it or not, kids and adults alike need 50-60 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates to provide energy and ensure proper brain function. 

There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate, meaning it is digested and absorbed quickly. Complex carbohydrates, which often contain healthy fibers, take longer to digest and are absorbed slowly. 

The more quickly a carbohydrate is absorbed, the faster it can increase blood sugar levels. Ideally, we want to keep blood sugar levels fairly consistent, avoiding sharp spikes which lead to crashing lows. Another benefit of complex carbohydrates is that they help keep blood sugar levels more consistent.

This doesn’t mean you need to eliminate sugar and other simple carbs from your diet. Yay! All carbohydrates give us energy and are required for serotonin production, which boosts our mood. 

Does sugar cause hyperactivity in kids?

While parents may not believe me, there’s actually no scientific evidence showing that sugar causes hyperactivity in kids. The hyperactivity you see in your kids after they eat a lot of sugar may actually be situational.

Think about the times your kids are given high sugar foods. They’re often surrounded by celebrations, games or play times with friends. In other words, the children may actually be stimulated by the excitement and not the sugar.

Stopping the sugar overload

That being said, there can be too much of a good thing. So how do you get a handle the sugars you and your kids take in during this season of joy? Follow these simple tips:

  • Make sure your family’s breakfast contains protein and complex carbohydrates. This will help you and your kids stay full and satisfied, and therefore avoid snack or sugar cravings throughout the day.
  • Don’t start the day with sweet foods. The foods we eat at the beginning of the day tend to “set the tone” for the rest of the day. If we start out eating super sweet foods in the morning, we will probably crave sweets all day.
  • Make time for meals and protein. When we skip meals or eat late, we end up desperately hungry, crabby and allowing everyone to eat whatever will make them happy. 
  • Plan ways to eat vegetables during days filled with parties and treats. Spinach in a smoothie, pumpkin muffins, veggie pizza or cauliflower rice are examples of ways to “sneak” in vegetables in between cookies.
  • Cook or bake with lower glycemic index sweeteners. These types of sugars, like honey, agave nectar and maple syrup, don’t increase your blood sugar as quickly as white sugar. These sweeteners also contain healthy minerals and consuming local honey can decrease seasonal allergies. Bonus!

There will likely be a few days this time of year that are filled to the brim with sugar, and that’s OK. Remember it’s what we do approximately 80 percent of the time that affects our health. The 20 percent of the time when we celebrate with birthdays, grandma’s cookies, classroom parties and social gatherings won’t take a huge toll on our overall wellness.

If you’re concerned about your child’s diet, talk to your Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician for more tips on avoiding the holiday sugar rush.

About the Author

Pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Walenz loves seeing kids grow as well as helping them lead long and healthy lives. She is especially interested in nutrition, growth and development.

Dr. Walenz sees patients at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

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