How to Reduce Sugar Cravings in Kids
My first born son used to have intense sugar cravings. And what is interesting is he has never had conventional candy, white sugar or pastries. But he wanted them- and anything else that was sweet including honey, maple syrup, home made goodies and fruit constantly. I get it- I love sweets myself, and when I think back to my childhood, I see myself in him, I craved sweets like mad too. I know how addictive sugar can be, and I know there are many different views on the intake of sugar. I don't believe completely denying the child sweets is the way to go. However, I do believe that when the craving is THAT intense, there is often more to the story and we need to ask WHY is the craving so intense?
There are a few things I have learned by exploring sugar cravings in myself and my son that can help get to the root cause of the problem. These include investigating if the child is dealing with low grade candida infections (sometimes showing up as mild thrush), ensuring there is enough protein in their diets, eating frequently throughout the day, avoiding having simple sugars or carbohydrates alone and making sure the child is getting adequate sleep.
Before digging into this deeper, I would like the address the question of "are sweets really that bad for my child?" Or, "if processed and refined sugar were so bad, they wouldn't be allowed on shelves" Again, I don't think that full restriction of candy and sweets is always the way to go, but knowledge is power- so let's talk about the real reasons why refined sugar and sweets should be avoided.
Refined sugar is linked to obesity and inflammation. In a study of of young healthy men sugar-sweetened beverage consumption increased inflammatory blood markers in just three weeks. However, another study showed that reducing sugary beverage consumption reduced inflammatory and chronic disease markers in the blood. In young children specifically, refined sugar consumption has been associated with increased cavities and poor oral health, kidney disease, diabetes as well as obesity and inflammation. The researchers in the study concluded that
" Healthy approaches to beverage and dietary consumption should be recommended and hopefully established in infancy, with the aim of preventing negative effects on general health in later childhood and adulthood"
Too much sugar can also put the brain into overdrive. With the brain being overstimulated, it can lead to mood swings, hyperactivity and other behavioural changes. Other evidence points to the possibility of increased consumption of sugar promoting cognitive decline and dementia in adults. in fact, more research is now suggesting that increased consumption of sugar may also be linked to depression. Although the sugar may make us feel good in the short term, the sugar crash is real, in adults and children alike, leading to low mood post sugar intake.
Most of these studies have focused on the consumption of refined sugar, which is different that naturally occurring sugars. Natural sugars are found in fruits as fructose and in dairy products as lactose. These foods either contain fibre, healthy fats and/or other important nutrients that may help prevent disease and support the body. These natural sources of sugar are digested slower and help you feel full for longer periods of time. On the other hand, refined sugar comes from refining sugar cane, or more commonly now, refined sugar from sugar beets. These are processed forms of sugar. These refined sugars are often combined with high fructose corn syrup and then added to packaged foods. The body very quickly breaks down this form of sugar, causing blood sugar levels and insulin levels to spike. Overtime, continually spiking insulin and glucose levels in the body can lead to diseases, as outlined above. Not to mention, refined sugar typically doesn't fill you up, unlike forms of other natural sugars.
But what about natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and agave?
Natural sweeteners often have a lower glycemic index compared to refined white sugar, meaning they will not spike the blood sugar or insulin as quickly as white sugar can. However, they are still a concentrated source of sugar, and although honey and maple syrup do contain some minerals and health benefits, they still should be used more sparingly in the diet. For example, I use honey, maple syrup or raw organic ground cane sugar in baking. I make sure to always use less of these sweeteners than the recipe calls for, and I don't offer baked good daily. I also ensure my baked goods have lots of healthy fats and protein such as a few eggs, butter, coconut oil and/or chia and flax seeds.
Even if we know refined sugar may be bad for the body, avoiding or reducing sugar can be hard! So lets look into fixing some root cause issues that could help to reduce sugar cravings.
Candida is a common fungus that lives in the digestive tract of humans. It is normal to have some candida in the body, but if it gets out of control it can cause various undesirable effects, including intense sugar cravings. Signs and symptoms of a candida infection can include red rashes in the groin area or on inside the bum, bad breath, a white coating on the tongue and can also sometimes result in low mood and lack of concentration. Candida infections are often thought to be exclusively yeast infections (such as a vaginal yeast infection) but this isn't necessarily true. If you suspect a candida infection speak to your health care provider. Natural remedies for candida or natural remedies for yeast infections can include the use of a candida diet, homeopathic borax, probiotics and echinacea.
Protein in the Diet
Having enough protein in the diet (for adults and children alike!) can help improve the sensation of feeling full, reduce insulin and sugar spikes and also help curb sugar cravings. The suggested protein intake for children is 1 gram per kg of body weight. This means that a 40lb child (18.2kg) needs about 18 grams of protein per day. To put this into perspective a 1 oz slice of cheese contains 7g of protein, a large 100g chicken breast contains 30g of protein, and 1 egg contains 6 g of protein.
Eating frequently throughout the day
We know that sugar cravings can be a result of blood sugar levels dipping or a results of being hungry. Providing the child healthy, protein rich snacks throughout the day may help curb sugar cravings. It is important to note that I don't suggest feeding the child if they are not hungry, the intention is not to "push" food on kids. But, to offer healthy snacks before they are crazy for sweets. The rule of thumb in our house is never to force food, but healthy food is offered. If they don't want it at the time, that is fine, but if they do become hungry, that is the food that they can eat. Examples of snacks we have in our home are: cut up carrots with a few slices of cheese, apples with cashews or almonds (older children only), home made baked goods that contain a lower sugar content, typically sweetened with apples, carrots, a little honey and include eggs, chia seeds and butter for health protein and fats. Ironically, my kids also really enjoy left overs sometimes for snacks such as cut up pieces of last nights chicken or fish.
Avoid giving simple sugars (fruit, carbohydrates) alone.
As outlined above, I make sure to pair healthy fats and protein with carbohydrates and sugary snacks. For example, instead of solely offering apples alone, I offer apples with cheese or nuts (healthy fats and protein) to reduce the sugar spike in the body. It also helps fill them up a little more!
When the body gets tired, it looks for ways to improve energy. As sugar is the main fuel for the brain, it makes sense that the body begins to crave sweets when it is feeling fatigued. Making sure children are getting adequate sleep can improve sugar cravings and overall dietary habits. The general guidelines for sleep for children are: toddlers (1–2 years): 11–14 hours (including naps) preschool (3–5 years): 10–13 hours ( including naps) school-age (6–13 years): 9–12 hours and teens(14–17 years) require 8–10 hours.
So, to recap, these are 5 ways to reduce sugar cravings in kids:
Treat Candida if needed, the candida diet, homeopathic borax, echinacea and probiotics may be helpful
Ensure the child is having enough protein. Kids require approximately 1-1.5 grams of protein for every TWO pounds of body weight, or more precisely, 1-gram protein per kg (1kg=2.2lbs). Thus, a 40-lb (18.2 kg) child needs approximately 18 grams protein per day.
Offer a healthy balanced snack every every 2-3 hours. I never push food, but have healthy options available for when they are truly hungry.
Pair sugar snacks or simple carbs with fats and protein
Ensure the child is getting enough sleep. If they have had a rough night, consider a short nap in the day.
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