Improve Learning… Cut the Sugar!

As the school year begins, we’re focused on helping our children excel in school as much as we can. Did you know that there is a discrepancy between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) regarding the prevalence of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in the US? According to the APA, 5 percent of American children (ages 4-17) have ADHD. Whereas the CDC reports more than twice that amount at 11%. I want to shed some light on just how important of a role our diet has on a child’s ability to focus… and the culprit is sugar.

According to Dr. Keith Conners, author of Feeding the Brain, research shows that children are more sugar sensitive than adults, and the effects are more pronounced in younger children. This could be related to the fact that the brain grows rapidly in the preschool years, exaggerating the effects of sugar on behavior and learning.  

Dr. Sears, a renowned American pediatrician, references an interesting study where researchers fed normal preschoolers a high-sugar drink, containing the amount of sugar in the average can of soda, and compared them with children who received a non-sugar drink. The sugar group experienced decreased learning performance and more hyperactivity than the non-sugar group. “Children tagged with the ADHD label are more often sugar-sensitive.”

Although convenient, fruit juices are one of the biggest offenders for affecting a child’s concentration while at school. Think of how frequently “juice boxes” make their way into a child’s lunch box… The average pouch of Capri Sun has 13g of sugar with no protein. Even worse, a drink box of Hi-C has 22g of sugar and no protein. This makes for a challenging afternoon of learning!

It’s important that we not only set a good example for our children by making healthy choices as a family, but also through educating them about what a balanced diet is to ensure good choices even when they’re away from parents. For example, pairing protein with a meal helps mellow out the behavior and learning deterioration through a more balanced blood sugar response. Conversely, a high sugar meal raises blood sugar levels, triggering the outpouring of insulin. Excess insulin in the system then triggers a craving for more sugar… and the roller coaster ride begins! When preparing any meal for a child there should be a protein included, either vegetable-based or animal-based.  Some pairing ideas include a piece of fruit with nuts, veggies and hummus, or meat with cheese.  Providing these options, and parents eating this way, can be very helpful to encourage children to make healthier choices.