Walk into any retailer right now and you’ll be faced with mountains of Easter treats. Soft marshmallow eggs and hollow chocolate bunnies hop into our shopping baskets just before we checkout and we’re more than happy to munch a few in the car on the way home, only to turn into tired, grumpy lumps as we hit a sugar slump a few hours later.
Sugar and its effects on health has been in spotlight lately with some of SA’s favourite beverage brands coming under fire for the amount of sugar they contain. Next time you buy a Fanta Grape, just remember that there’s about four tablespoons of sugar in one can. Most people believe that they can cut out sugar by simply avoiding sweet things like chocolates, soft drinks and sweets but you’ll be surprised to see sugar in many food items on our shelves today like tomato sauce, bread, yogurts and flavoured water. At The ADD Lab we see countless children and adults diagnosed with ADHD, and interventions like Neurotherapy help to calm those busy brainwaves that result in hyperactive behaviour. But could sugar be responsible for our overactive minds?
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE EAT SUGAR?
When we eat foods high in sugar, sweet taste receptors on the tongue are activated which sends signals to Reward Systems found in the brain. These Reward Systems function to encourage the repetition of certain behaviours, and when stimulated they release a neurochemical called dopamine which creates a pleasurable feeling. Substances like drugs, coffee, nicotine and alcohol also cause a massive release of dopamine, leading some people to constantly seek the associated high, leading to addiction.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE EAT HEALTHY FOOD?
Eating healthy foods also causes dopamine levels to rise in Reward Centres. But unlike sugar, there isn’t a spike, followed by a massive drop. Healthy food dopamine increases and decreases gradually and levels out over a period of time. Ever notice how a balanced meal makes you feel more satisfied for longer and an unhealthy meal makes you want to consume more food much quicker after finishing?
DOES SUGAR CAUSE ADHD?
Numerous studies have been conducted to investigate the relationship between ADHD and sugar intake. To date, the overwhelming majority has suggested that high sugar intake does not cause ADHD. Then why do so many parents notice changes in their child’s behaviour when they eat sugar? Some experts suggest that it might stem from parents’ beliefs about sugar.
One study asked mothers to rate their children’s behaviour after consuming what the mothers believed was real sugar when in fact they were given a sugar substitute. Mothers who believed that their child had ingested real sugar rated their behaviour as more hyperactive as opposed to those who knew that they had taken a sugar substitute.
Some studies indicate that hyperactive behaviour depends on the situations you find yourself in. Birthday parties, family trips or holiday celebrations often expose kids to more stimuli, which causes them to act “revved up”. And many children who present with ADHD find it difficult to adapt to social situations, especially when there is a lot of auditory (e.g. shouting) and visual stimuli present. So is sugar to blame or should we prepare our kids better for social situations, like preparing them for upcoming events and to arrive a little bit earlier or later to allow your child time to adjust to the environment. Experiment with arriving different times to see what works best for your child.
The jury is out on whether excess sugar intake is directly associated with ADHD, but there still are many good reasons why it is best to limit sugar intake:
- Most sugary foods affect appetite and as they have very little nutritional value, they can replace or deprive your child of foods that they need to function effectively.
- Dramatic spikes in blood glucose levels influence the body’s ability to produce insulin over time and can cause permanent damage to vital organs such as the pancreas, liver and kidneys.
- Increased sugar intake has been linked to obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease as well as a range of other diseases detrimental to your child’s overall health.
- Sugar is addictive which can lead to increased cravings for sugar and even addiction for some individuals.
- Increased cavities and tooth decay.
- Lowered immune responses.
HOW MUCH SUGAR IS ENOUGH?
The recommended daily allowance for sugar as recommended by the American Heart Association is as follows:
- Men: 9 teaspoons (38g)
- Women: 6 teaspoons (25g)
- Children: Between 3 – 6 teaspoons (12 – 15g) depending on their age
HOW CAN I LIMIT MY SUGAR INTAKE?
The best way to limit sugar intake is to read the labels provided on food packaging and to become familiar with the different names for sugar. The amount of sugar contained in a food item should be listed in the “Typical Nutritional Information” table on the packaging under “Total Sugar”. Also make sure to look at the list of ingredients to check for any added sugars and check serving sizes in the table in order to make your estimations of the sugar contained more accurate.
If you are concerned about your own or your family’s current sugar intake, it might be beneficial to check and monitor what foods you eat on a regular basis. Whenever possible, try to stock your kitchen and cupboards with healthy food and try to encourage your children to make healthy food choices. Remember, if sweets don’t come home with you from the shop, it’s not waiting in a cupboard to be eaten. If you or your family find it difficult to adapt your diet and sugar intake, consult your medical doctor or dietician on how you can best change your diet and lifestyle.
Contact Luzanne at The ADD Lab on 011 888 9334 and schedule your free innitial consulation before 3 April 2015 if you would like to find out more about Neurotherapy and how it can help you manage ADHD and its symptoms better.