Negative Effects of Refined Sugar in Children

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Refined or processed sugar and foods containing refined sugars such as cookies, candies and some breads and pastas have numerous negative effects on both children. When children regularly consume refined sugars, they are at an increased risk for developing conditions such as tooth decay, obesity and behavioral issues.

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay can begin at an early age in children. When babies or young children have prolonged exposure to sugars found in sweetened water, fruit juice, milk, breast milk and formula such as by giving a baby a bottle in bed or by sweetening a pacifier with honey or sugar, they are at an increased risk for tooth decay. When the sugar remains in the child’s mouth for 20 minutes or longer the bacteria uses these sugars as food to produce acid that attacks the teeth, reports the American Dental Association. Over time, the teeth will start to decay. This also occurs in older children who regularly consume refined sugars.

Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the United States. Refined sugars in children’s diets are a leading contributor to its early onset. Overweight or obese children are an increased risk for developing chronic conditions such as heart disease, high-blood pressure, high cholesterol, type II diabetes, asthma and sleep apnea. They are also more likely to have a weight problem as an adult.

Behavioral Issues

Refined sugar intake is a significant contributor to your child’s behavior and activity levels. When your child consumes refined sugars, there is a sudden spike in blood sugar levels. Once the glucose levels begin to fall, there is a release of the hormone adrenaline – which can contribute to hyperactivity in children -- to compensate for the decrease in blood sugar. Moreover, the release of adrenaline occurs at higher glucose levels in children than in adults. As the glucose level falls below normal, hypoglycemia or low-blood sugar can occur, which can result in shakiness, sweating and altered thinking and behavior disturbances in children, reports Alan Green, M.D.

Reducing Refined Sugars

Limit the amount of the refined sugar in your child’s diet by providing meals consisting of lean proteins such as lean chicken or beef, eggs or low-fat dairy and healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive or canola oil. Carbohydrates are necessary in your child’s diet but should be limited to vegetables, whole-grains and fruits. Whole-grains such as oatmeal, brown rice or whole-grain bread or pasta are slower-digesting and do not cause a rapid increase in blood sugar like refined sugars found in cookies, pastries, and while breads and pastas. Additionally, whole-grain, vegetables and fruits are packed with nutrients and fiber, which are beneficial for remaining healthy and fighting disease. Children should avoid sweetened beverages, which contain high amounts of refined sugars such as soda or fruit juices. Instead, drink water, milk or freshly squeezed juices.