Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When Sugar Becomes Love

By Julia Moravcsik, PhD, author of Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food

Every parent knows that sugar isn't good for kids.  And yet many parents give their children desserts, candy, and soda.  Why do they do this?

One reason is obvious to any adult who has ever given an ice cream cone to a kid.  Sugary treats make kids happy.  A sad or angry kid is immediately turned into a calm, euphoric child, focused only on the taste of the ice cream.  Even a kid who is already in a good mood acquires a look of bliss when she eats a candy bar.

Because sweets make kids so happy, parents may feel mean if they don't give their children sweets.  Why deprive your child of something that makes them happy, just because it isn't healthy?  Why not let them have some fun?  Don't you LOVE your kid?

The Euphoria That Children Get From Sugar is Creepy!

Because sweets are so prevalent in modern cultures, people rarely stop and think about the euphoria that comes from eating sugar.  Isn't it strange that a substance can so suddenly stop your child's bad mood in its tracks? Isn't that look of bliss a little unnatural?  What's really going on?

The reason children love sugar so much is that it acts like a drug.  Like illegal drugs, sugar stimulates both the dopamine system (also triggered by drugs like cocaine) and the opiate system (also triggered by drugs like heroin).

Children who eat sweets repeatedly may actually change the neural workings of their brains.  Scientists aren't sure what the consequences of this are, but it may lead to increased susceptibility to drug addiction, or less of an ability to experience pleasure from other things.

A hundred years ago, parents used to put a splash of whiskey in their babies' bottles.  We shudder at the ignorance of these parents.  And yet, many parents are doing something very similar every day!

Sugar May Make Your Child Unhappy in the Long Term

There is a common pattern with mood-altering drugs.  In the short term, they cause pleasure or happiness.  But the sudden, unnatural surge of neurochemicals causes the brain to react by lessening the ability for those neurochemicals to affect the brain.  In some cases, neurons die from overstimulation (excitotoxic death).  In others, receptors change their sensitivity to the neurochemical (downregulate or upregulate).

What this means is that if your child eats desserts (or takes drugs) she may be less able to feel pleasure or joy with everyday experiences.

So you are trading that one moment when you see your child in bliss for a much longer time when she doesn't enjoy herself -- when play seems boring, regular food seems tasteless, and your hugs don't feel cuddly.

Can I NEVER Give My Child Sweets?

It's not realistic, in today's culture, to never give your child sweets.  Restricting sweets completely may even make your child want them more.

But don't give sweets to your child on a regular basis.  It's probably easiest if you let your child eat the occasional cookie at Grandma's house, or free sample of cake at the supermarket, but avoid sweets at your home.  That way your child won't be thinking about sweets when she's at home.

Would you like a simple, easy-to-follow program that will teach your child to love healthy food? See my new book Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food on amazon.com.

Related Links

Junk Food Diet May Cause Autism Through Insulin Resistance
Don't Give Your Child Chocolate Milk
When Sugar Becomes Love 

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