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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Is Sugar Killing Our Kids?

For regular phillyfun4kids readers, you know we don't normally use this venue to post editorials. We keep it light and focused on family and kid-friendly things to do in and around this great city of motherly love. Once in a while we will post about a particular cause that is important to us (like childhood literacy, etc) but today we're going to get personal. Hope you don't mind...

I've been struggling with this for a long time now but I think I have finally come to the official conclusion that my 3.5 year old is a sugar addict. For the first year and half of her life she barely had any sugar. Grandparents couldn't believe that she had never had ice cream when she was 1.5 yrs old. I think her first real sweet might have been a lollipop handed out by some loving grandma trying to make nice. Little did we know that lollipops are a gateway drug... on to the "harder" stuff like M&Ms and skittles. Or of course we knew that but didn't realize how quickly it would happen and what a slippery slope it would be once the first offerings of sugar were made and so gleefully accepted.

We first noticed that we were dealing with a real issue long before the candy though. We noticed it with the juice. She started getting some apple juice after we I weaned her (rather late, I might add) close to her 2 yr birthday. And from there she was hooked. She always wanted juice. We diluted it of course but we gave her diluted juice throughout much of the day. Largely this was because she didn't drink cows milk and wasn't real keen on water (who would be after being given juice all day, I guess). We started noticing behavioral issues related to her juice consumption. Tantrums. Meltdowns. Not eating. Only wanting juice. It was like she was mainlining apple juice all day to get by and if she didn't have it, watch out. So, we started to wean her off juice. She's now down to just a little diluted juice in the morning and water for the rest of the day unless we are out to eat or somewhere special where she might get juice again.

And so it went for a while with the diluted juice and trying to keep sweets to a minimum. Over the past two years, we have suspected that she was very sensitive to sugar but now in fact, we've confirmed it. Whenever she would eat a piece of candy or a sweet the effects would be immediate and obvious. Her energy would skyrocket and the happiness and glee was cute (until it sometimes bordered on a little crazy). But then the lows and the mood swings were bad. Sometimes REAL bad. Case in point...

Recently after "mainlining" a rarely proffered chocolate milk at one of family's occassional fast food weekend stops, I ended up having to carry my daughter kicking and screaming and practically frothing at the mouth from the restaurant. This is not the first time this has happened. Usually it is the result of a lethal combo of being overly tired and then getting some form of sugar. But, this time was a new low. It was after "the chocolate milk incident" that I realized once and for all that we had a big problem. And frankly what scared me most was not the stares of other patrons or the having to physically remove her from a place to avoid further incident but rather that she was so worked up and upset it just seemed so unfair to allow this to happen to her if it didn't have to happen. She seemed so out of control and what's *really* freaky is that after she was removed from the restaurant and after she had finally calmed down a little she fell asleep and napped for a nice long car nap. But when she woke up she started talking about how we hadn't gone to lunch yet. It was as if she blocked the whole incident - she had an outer body experience or something and was so disturbed and outside of herself that she didn't even realize we had already had lunch and been to the place she was clamoring to go to and eat (again). Surreal, right? Who wants to have their kid feel this way? Or experience this level of "mini-trauma" that she had already blocked the whole thing? Not me, that's for sure. Especially not if there's something I can do to help avoid it.

In trying to understand the mood swings, and the sugar crazed behavior, we did some research and found a book called Little Sugar Addicts by Kathleen Des Maisons. If you have even the remotest suspicion that your child is sugar sensitive or if you have interest in eliminating or reducing sugar from your family's diet, you really need to read this book. It is an incredible eye opener for me and so clearly and easily presented that even a sleep deprived, overcommitted, and scatterbrained mommy of two like me can not only make sense of it but start to follow the steps laid out immediately.

Here are the key points for those of you who want/need the cliff notes:

- Sugar sensitivity is a bio-chemical imbalance. It does not occur in everyone. If you aren't sure whether you are your child is sugar-sensitive, all you have to do is take the "chocolate chip cookie test". (BTW, I failed. And I know my sugar sensitive daughter would too.)

- Controlling sugar intake in sugar sensitive people (including yourself and your kids!) will help to even out behavior and moods.

- Significantly reducing and/or eliminating sugar from your child's diet will very likely increase their self confidence. Sugar sensitive people are born with low beta-endorphin. Low beta-endorphin produces low self-esteem. Controlling and/or eliminating sugar and eating right might help increase self-esteem.

- Sugar sensitivity may be linked to alcoholism. According to Des Maisons the biochemical imbalances of sugar sensitivity may be an underlying factor in alcoholism (among other diseases including ADD, obesity, diabetes and depression.)

- Step 1? Not reduce or eliminate sugar as you might think but rather increase protein. And increase protein especially within an hour after waking up to normalize the blood sugar in the body after sleeping all night.

Obviously, I am WAAAY oversimplifying Kathleen DesMaison's book and work but I wanted to pique your interest enough and provide the salient points so that if you think you might have a sugar sensitive child on your hands you can start to have some real help at your finger-tips.

What's ironic about all this is that I was reading this book mere days before Halloween and I'm stocking up and stashing Halloween candy as I am pouring over this book. Obviously trying to eliminate sugar in the week before Halloween wasn't going to fly but I knew that once the big candy getting event was over, we could start in earnest to drastically reduce and monitor sugar intake. And we have. It's not going to always be easy but I'm really pleased to have found a manageable cause for such um, drastic, behavioral changes in my otherwise sweet little girl. And if by reducing or eliminating sugar from her diet I'm also decreasing her chances of becoming obese or getting diabetes or even possibly cancer than I'm all for it and ready to take drastic measures to make it happen. I'm also amazed at the possibility that I could be increasing my daughter's chances for having improved self esteem throughout her life. That alone, means that maybe I've given her a slightly more solid footing from which to launch from in life. All by reducing her sugar now.

If you need more data on the impact and effect of sugar, check out this New York Times article "Is Sugar Toxic?" by Gary Taubes.

Good luck with reducing sugar from your family's diet. Let me know how you make out and any experiences or tips you might want to share. Know that you're not alone and take it slowly. Make it fun. Get the whole family involved and empower your kids to better understand sugar and why sugar is not love (as Kathleen Des Maisons reminds us).

Disclosure: This is not a paid or sponsored post. I received no monetary compensation for sharing my thoughts about sugar sensitivity. This post is simply made in an attempt to share my personal experiences with sugar in my family and to help readers find information and resources if they are facing similar challenges.


  1. Kids love sweets. But if it is limited then their is no problem with it.

  2. @newjerseynutcrackers yes, you're right about that!

  3. Nice article Jen! We lucked out w/ our child, but I have a cousin whose son would literally go into rageful tantrums after sugar exposure, so they really had to watch everything he consumed (packaged, restaurant foods, etc). We have a chart for our child which shows several glasses of water, at least one glass of milk and only one glass of juice (cut with water). She gets to check off the beverages throughout the day - so she can see if she has already used up her juice allotment!


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