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Is sugar turning your toddler into a terror?

Toddlers are notoriously moody. As soon as they learn the word no, it usually becomes their response to every request, whether it’s brushing their teeth, getting in the car or eating their grilled cheese sandwich.

Tantrums are a fact of life with young children, and most times you just need to ride them out. But wildly fluctuating moods are another story. If your child is happily playing one minute and raging about a lost doll the next and then having an inconsolable tearful meltdown when it’s time to put the Lego away, you might be dealing with a blood sugar issue.

How does blood sugar affect moods?

In order to have stable moods, you need to have stable blood sugar. If your child’s blood sugar is going up and down, her moods are likely to follow suit. Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is common in children, and is usually triggered by skipping meals, not eating regularly, or eating too many high-sugar, high-carbohydrate foods.

The brain needs glucose to function properly, and when you leave too long a gap between meals, the blood glucose levels fall. On the other hand, eating lots of sugary treats like cookies, ice cream or candy, or eating carbs like pasta and bread made from white flour, can trigger a blood sugar spike.  This creates the dreaded sugar crash, which means a burst of energy followed by weakness, dizziness, shakiness and fatigue, all of which can be difficult for a young child to communicate to you. This can quickly manifest as bad behavior. As hypoglycemia sets in, your child can become irritable, depressed, tearful and have difficulty concentrating.

Preventing the crash

1. Start the day with a high-protein breakfast

There’s a lot of truth in the old saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Eating a breakfast that is high in protein, healthy carbs and fibre will stabilize your child’s blood sugar and help keep it level throughout the day, as long as you continue to provide healthy options. A good example would be a hearty bowl of oatmeal with unsweetened yogurt and fresh fruit.

2. Offer foods with a low glycemic index (GI)

Glucose is a sugar created from our body breaking down carbohydrates and creating fuel. Glucose travels through our blood to get to our cells, and the speed at which it travels is determined by the food we ate. The glycemic index is how we measure how quickly the glucose travels, and foods with a higher glycemic index raise blood sugar faster than the lower GI foods do.

Foods with a high GI can be a culprit when dealing with fluctuations in blood sugar in kids. These would include:

  • Anything containing white sugar, corn syrup, molasses or honey
  • White bread, waffles, bagels
  • White rice
  • Potatoes

Low-glycemic foods include:

  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables
  • Lean proteins like chicken and turkey
  • Nuts and seeds

This means that traditional child-friendly snacks like crackers made from white flour or granola bars (packed with sugar and corn syrup) should be replaced with a handful of almonds or cashews and some whole-grain toast with a slice of turkey.

We all get moody from time to time, and sometimes your toddler will just have a sad day or an angry day. But we do know that when we eat well, sleep well and get exercise, we just feel better. Blood sugar spikes can cause all kinds of physical and emotional distress, so making sure you offer healthy, fresh food options to your toddler throughout the day will help curb those food-related mood issues.

That’s about it for today!

To happy and healthy families,

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