Honey and maple syrup are natural foods, but children should restrict their consumption of all sugars. I recommend that honey and maple syrup be forbidden for infants under 18 months. Although some experts disagree, researchers have found that children suffering from behavior disorders or learning disabilities can demonstrate dramatic improvements when sugar and junk foods are removed from their diets.
“Fruit juice sweetened” foods are equally bad. The so-called “fruit juice” is really only the sugar from the fruit, refined so that the flavor, many of the nutrients, and the fiber of the fruit are removed. What’s left is plain old sugar water. “Fruit juice sweetened” foods are no healthier for you than the sugared variety.
While most products list their contents, it’s still easy to be fooled. Have you ever looked at the label on a bottle of catsup? Remember that ingredients are listed according to the amount found in the product, with the predominate ingredient listed first. Look at that catsup label! You’ll find sugar is listed in the first or second position. That supposedly harmless condiment is full of sugar. And I don’t have to say anything about breakfast cereals, do I? Again, sugar is often right at the top of the list.
I recommend that you satisfy your child’s sweet tooth with fruit. An apple, for instance, contains a high percentage of water. So the sugar in an apple is diluted and comes in small amounts. You’d have to eat a lot of apples to ingest the same amount of sugar that’s in one candy bar. With the apple and other fruit, you get the added benefits of nutrients and fiber. With a candy bar, you get substances you don’t want like oils and added ingredients.
Unfortunately, sugar is a food that’s almost addictive. Simple sugars, like those found in processed foods, are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly.
This sudden influx of sugar elevates the level of insulin in the system. Insulin counteracts the sugar level, knocking it back down swiftly. Instead of slowly rising after breakfast, reaching a plateau, falling again before lunch, and then repeating the process throughout the day in a series of gentle curves, the rising and falling sugar levels become a jagged line of swift ascents and descents. The ingestion of simple sugars, like fruit, honey, or maple syrup, makes the body crave more sugar. The person who has doughnuts and coffee for breakfast is probably going to need more doughnuts and coffee within just a couple of hours. If the sugar-eater is a child, you’ll have a very busy little person on your hands. If you make note of what your children eat and how their behavior deteriorates after eating, it won’t take you long to equate “hyperactivity” with food. Give a toddler sugar for breakfast, and you’ll have a morning of “terrible twos” behavior ahead of you. A snack of sweet, milky cocoa with marshmallows and cookies will mean a fidgety child for the rest of the afternoon. And the child who eats sugar before bedtime will probably be cranky, whining, and awake two hours later.
Children become addicted to sugar because it tastes good and it makes them feel silly and out-of-control. I strongly suggest that you keep sugar out of your children’s diets for a week or two and then evaluate the changes in behavior. Almost without exception, simple changes in the diet mean major changes in the child’s temperament and behavior. In children who are already on healthy diets, it’s very easy to trace. If they eat a piece of cake at a birthday party, they are awake half the night. Because their diets are cleaner, the sugar effect is noticeable immediately.
This opinion isn’t shared by everyone in the medical community. But after over 20 years in practice, I stand by it as do many other doctors and nutritionists.
I urge you to read all labels carefully. Know how much sugar your child is eating and try to cut out as much as you can. Children who avoid sugar don’t miss it, and their parents don’t miss the constant misbehavior of their sugar-eating off-spring.