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Is Sugar Making my Child Anxious?

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  • Article summary:

    This article explains how childhood anxiety can be associated with sudden increases in blood-sugar levels.

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Is Sugar Making my Child Anxious?

Anxiety in children is a poorly misunderstood phenomenon. Anxiety in children is usually dismissed as normal childhood blues, despite its chronic manifestation. This is why children with anxiety often don’t get the proper treatment that they need and suffer unnecessarily as a result.

Most people attribute anxiety in children to the fast-paced lives of their parents. This includes transfers in residence, being alone at home most of the time, divorce situations, and the like. These stressful situations are valid contributors towards child anxiety, but the role of sugar in triggering anxiety in children is just as valid, believe it or not.

Some therapists have started explaining this to parents of children with anxiety recently. Indeed, the web is replete with testimonies from parents about their so-called “discovery.” There are those for instance who realized only recently that indeed their children with anxiety have been finding solace in junk food! Now they no longer wonder why child’s anxiety is chronic.

The rise of sugar intake is an alarming phenomenon in society as a whole. We now consume around 62 Kg of sugar per person annually. This sugar may come from table sugar, syrups, breakfast cereals, mayonnaise, and tomato sauce and is found in almost every edible item on the store shelves.

Two decades ago, sugar consumption was about 12 kgs per person annually. Move further back in time to around 1890, the consumption was only about 2,5 kgs per person annually. We see a correlation between sugar consumption and recent rises in occurrence of cardiovascular disease, cancer and… anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are fairly modern phenomenon in children. Medical authorities have identified excessive consumption of sugar and caffeine as accomplices. The impact is indirect, sugar destabilizes the human body and the response of the body to the instability can cause an anxious reaction.

It isn’t difficult to understand how the destabilization works. The human body has a “sugar thermostat” that balances blood-sugar levels. When the levels go excessively low, the mechanism boosts the level up by secreting adrenaline hormones from the adrenal glands. When levels go excessively high, the mechanism brings it down by releasing insulin from the pancreas.

When children with anxiety consume too much sugar, the pancreas over-secretes insulin. The sudden fall in blood-sugar levels triggers the production of adrenaline. Adrenaline is one of the primary hormones responsible for our fight or flight responses to emergency situations. In fact, the extra boost comes from the rapid conversion of glycogen (sugars in store) into glucose (sugars in action).

To recap the process, sudden increases in blood-sugar cause over-secretion of insulin. The resulting sudden drop in blood-sugar levels triggers the system to secrete adrenalin, which can cause or worsen a child’s anxiety. Habitual consumption of sugar therefore puts the child’s blood-sugar levels on a roller coaster ride. This, in turn, can contribute to chronic anxiety in children.

Given the above, how do we now address child anxiety and the role sugar may play?

First, we need to understand and recognize that child anxiety can be associated with sudden increases in blood-sugar levels. They are traceable to processed foods such as table sugar, cereals, cookies, junk food, candies, biscuits and almost everything packaged on store shelves. Children tend to consume sugar from these foods more because of their attraction to sweets.

However, there are sources of sugar that release sugar gradually. These are whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. Sources of protein such nuts and seeds, beans, eggs, meat and fish are also recommended to aid the adrenal glands and prevent causing it unnecessary stress.

A major key to managing anxiety in children is to avoid foods that trigger adrenal responses. The ideal dietary formula therefore is to cut down on processed foods and increase the intake of food that releases sugar gradually. Indeed, we are what we eat. The same holds true for children with anxiety. Diet is where parents have direct control over childhood anxiety.

Some schools have already experimented on being “sugar free”. They have observed dramatic improvements in performance and behaviour of the students. Imagine this being done in homes as well!

Outside of “sugar-free” schools and homes, it is a serious challenge to avoid unwanted sugar. There is sugar in virtually anything that we buy. One has to have the proper mind set and determination, it won’t be always easy to avoid sugar!

The first crucial step is to examine the diet of the child with anxiety. Some of the foods and drinks in the diet would readily identify themselves as anxiety-causing. These could be junk food, candies, chocolates, processed foods, dairy products, foods with monosodium glutamate (MSG), foods that contain salicylates and the like. They also include processed juices, chocolates and soda.

The next step is to eliminate anxiety-causing food and drinks from the child’s diet. Serve fruits and vegetables which provide beneficial nutrients that help combat stress. Have them drink water or herbal tea instead of sugary sodas. At this stage, creativity in making the food appealing to the child with anxiety would come in handy.

The third step would be to gradually restore each eliminated food and drink into the child’s diet. At this stage, monitor closely the child’s anxiety levels. When the child responds to the food with an increase in anxiety, then that particular food should be considered for elimination. Otherwise, they may remain in the diet in reasonable and healthy amounts.

The fourth step would be to boost items in the child’s diet with food that enhance metabolic activity. A diet low in simple carbohydrates but high in complex carbohydrates would be ideal. Go for food that’s high in protein as well. Continue serving fruits and vegetables as often as possible. Complex carbohydrates stabilize blood-sugar levels. They also increase serotonin in the brain which enhances mood and well-being.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Minimize your child’s anxiety by taking out sugared cereals in the morning and serve any kind of fresh fruit instead combined with a protein or nut butter.

The fifth step would be to keep sugar levels consistent throughout the day. Find a way of serving five smaller meals instead of three. This distributes whatever nutritional “jolt” there may be more evenly and prevents the roller coaster ride of insulin and anxiety discussed earlier.

Of course, psychological causes are undoubtedly valid causes of child’s anxiety, but a sugar-filled diet is also something to monitor as a potential contributor to anxiety.

The Original Article as viewed on the Anxiety Free Child Program blog:

The Anxiety Free Child Program

The Anxiety-Free Child Program is a comprehensive set of exceptionally high quality and professionally developed resources designed to help you and your child quickly understand, confront, and overcome anxiety, phobias, or fear with the convenience, privacy, and affordability of an at-home system.



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