Parents often stress about their kids’ sugar intake, but it can be hard to know how much is too much – or what to do about it.
Glucose – a simple sugar that forms the basis of most carbohydrate-rich food – is the primary source of energy for the brain. Healthy brains require a continuous source of energy and nutrients to fuel growth, learning and development.
However, that doesn’t mean extra consumption of sugar is good for the developing brain. In fact, too much sugar can actually be detrimental to the normal growth of the brain.
I am a clinical nutritionist and a nutrition scientist with a neuroscience focus whose research revolves around understanding the impact of diet and lifestyle on brain function and mental well-being. Preliminary results from my research indicate that consumption of sugary food is associated with mental distress – such as anxiety and depression – and disrupted sleep.
Sources of sugar in kids’ diet
Processed foods, such as donuts, sodas and sweetened cereals, often contain added sugars. Unfortunately, these foods tend to be easily accessible to children and teenagers – whether it be after sports games or at birthday parties.
Chemically processed foods are those that have been altered by adding components not naturally found in them. These foods often contain added sugars, preservatives, salts and trans fats – all aimed at increasing taste, texture or shelf life.
As a result, processed foods have a lower nutritional value than whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. One of the most common sweeteners in U.S. food products is high-fructose corn syrup, which contains not only glucose but another simple sugar called fructose. Too much fructose has been associated with increased body fat. High-fructose corn syrup is found in sodas and baked goods like muffins and donuts.