Article contributed by Isabel Busschau (JHB-based Banting Buddies coach)
ADD, ADHD, hyperactivity or learning problems. These conditions are found in many children today. There are different kinds of learning problems. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is most commonly seen as a learning problem, not necessarily accompanied by unruly behavior. It usually means the child has an exceptionally short attention span. Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) is also very common, and usually displays the symptoms of unruly behaviour, and a short attention span. Parents have more questions than answers most of the time. The first questions often asked is, what causes it and whether drugs are the best option, and do they really treat the cause or merely the symptoms? Then there is the concern of all the side effects.
Could nutrition and what we are feeding our children have anything to do with the high incidence of these conditions and be the reason that so many children today are labeled as naughty, disruptive or slow in learning?
The answer is a simple yes.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services as much as 3% of children might have a clinically proven food intolerance. Amongst the most highly rated food intolerances (foods directly affecting a child’s behavior), are sugar and processed foods.
Sugar sours behavior, attention, and learning. Studies of the effects of sugar on children’s behavior are as wildly contradictory as a sugar-crazed four-year-old after a birthday party. But, the general consensus is that some children and adults are sugar-sensitive. This means their behavior, attention span, and learning ability deteriorate in proportion to the amount of junk sugar they consume.
Sugar promotes sugar highs. Some people are more sugar sensitive than others, and children may be more sensitive than adults. A study comparing the sugar response in children and adults showed that the adrenaline levels in children remained ten times higher than normal for up to five hours after a test dose of sugar.
Research suggests that children are more sugar sensitive than adults, and the effects are more pronounced in younger children, according to Dr. Keith Conners, author of Feeding the Brain. This could be related to the fact that the brain grows rapidly in the preschool years, exaggerating the effects of sugar on behavior and learning.
In an interesting study, researchers fed normal preschoolers a high-sugar drink, containing the amount of sugar in the average can of soda, and compared them with children who received a non-sugar drink. The sugar group experienced decreased learning performance, and more hyperactivity than the non-sugar group.
Children tagged with the ADHD label are often sugar-sensitive. There may be several reasons for this. Hyperactive kids are impulsive and need instant gratification. They need more energy and they need it now! Unable to curb their appetite, they overdose on junk foods. Some studies of hyperactive children show a higher blood sugar rise following a high sugar meal than one finds in normally active children. Hyperactive children seem to metabolize sugar differently. In response to a high sugar meal, hyperactive kids increase their output of the stress hormone, cortisol (the hormone that plays an important role in regulating blood sugar levels.)
Dr. Keith Conners, concludes from his original research that while the neurotransmitters in the brains of normally active children signal the hormones to regulate blood sugar, brains of hyperactive children do not seem to send the same signals. While studies show that activity levels go up in both hyperactive and normal children on high- sugar diets, the hyperactive children also become more aggressive.
Sugar promotes cravings. The more sugar you eat, the more sugar you want. A high sugar meal raises the blood glucose level, which triggers the outpouring of insulin. This excess insulin lingers in the system, triggering a craving for more sugar, thus adding another hill to the roller coaster ride.
A lot more research needs to be conducted as it is suggested in the article from THE LANCET JOURNAL “Effects of a restricted elimination diet on the behavior of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (INCA study): a randomized controlled trial”.
However, eliminating simple sugars from a child’s diet and providing a nutritionally balanced diet of quality animal protein, good carbohydrates, as well as natural fats, has already been proven to help. Let us do what we can to avoid our children from being labelled. Therefore, allowing them to grow up as individuals and not stereotypes.
Author: Isabel Busschau (JHB-based Banting Buddies coach)
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