Impact of too much sugar on your child’s health
Sugar is all over the place. Portion sizes are increasing in today’s society, processed foods are becoming the standard, and as a result, we’re consuming more sugar than ever before. A high sugar intake is linked to an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and dental cavities. Sugar’s impact on your child’s brain health is also becoming clearer according to recent studies.
There are both immediate and long-term consequences of high sugar intake on brain health. You’re certainly aware of ‘sugar high,’ which is defined by a spike in your child’s energy followed by sugar consumption. But did you know that sugar also has long-term consequences for your child’s brain health?
Let’s have a look at our brains:
The Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) is a key regulator of cognitive activities like attention, behavioural control, and self-control. These do not form until later in life because this area of the brain is still maturing until the early twenties. Sugar has an especially negative impact on a child’s brain because the brain is continually developing. Long-term, everyday use of high-sugar (and high-fat) diets has been related to a loss of neurons (brain cells) in the prefrontal cortex, which may have an adverse effect on the creation of the cognitive processes indicated above. During this stage of life, an undeveloped prefrontal cortex might reduce self-regulation, which could be the cause of your child’s behaviour problems.
The Hippocampus is a brain region important in learning and long-term memory. The production of new neurons, known as neurogenesis, is a key element of memory and learning development. High sugar intake has been demonstrated in studies to slow down this process, potentially affecting performance on tasks like learning ability. Sugar consumption has also been linked to poor performance on nonverbal IQ tests.
Is sugar an addictive substance?
Let’s move on to the brain’s reward system. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (think of it as a brain messenger) involved in movement, motivation, and addiction. Dopamine is released when you eat a highly enjoyable food (such as a sugary snack). Eating large amounts of these foods can activate the reward system to a great degree, causing a person to eat more food than necessary to meet their energy needs. With consistently high sugar diets, this overeating can begin in childhood and persist throughout maturity. Research is also showing that sugar can be characterized as an addictive substance and may even have addictive properties including withdrawal or continued cravings when sugar is deprived
What should you do?
Sugar is so widely available that it’s easy for your child to consume too much. For a list of typical sugar sources and guidelines, check the previous blog (INCLUDE LINK). If you’re having trouble reducing your child’s sugar intake, try implementing the following suggestions:
1. Avoid fruit juice: Juice has an abnormally high sugar content. Many of the nutritious characteristics of fruit, such as fibre and vitamins, are stripped away during processing. Instead, make water the preferred beverage.
2. Be inventive when it comes to baking! Use natural sweeteners like dates or bananas to sweeten your food. Because many recipes ask for a lot of sugar, lowering the amount can also assist.
3. Keep an eye out for food marketing. Many smoothie businesses, for example, love to pitch their products as the healthier option, but they might actually be filled with 50+ grammes of sugar!
4. Finally, make a positive start to your child’s day. Many traditional breakfast meals, such as cereal or Pop tarts, contain a lot of sugar, which causes your child’s energy to jump and then drop before lunch. Including more complex carbohydrates and fibre in the first meal of the day (for example, overnight oats, eggs, peanut butter, and whole grain bread) can make a huge difference.
Kanupriya Khanna, a Senior Consultant Nutritionist & Dietitian with over 18 years of experience in paediatric nutrition, can provide expert advice. She is regarded as one of the best dietitians in Delhi because of her unwavering commitment to making a difference in people’s lives by instilling good eating habits and lifestyles.
1. Reichelt, A., Gibson, G., Abbott, K., Hare, D. (2019). A high-fat high-sugar diet in adolescent rats impairs social memory and alters chemical markers characteristic of atypical neuroplasticity and parvalbumin interneuron depletion in the medial prefrontal cortex. Food & Function, (4).
2. Reichelt, A. (2016). Adolescent maturational transitions in the prefrontal cortex and dopamine signaling as a risk factor for the development of obesity and high fat/high sugar diet induced cognitive deficits. Front. Behav. Neurosci,
3. Neuroscientifically Challenged. (2015, January 16). Know your brain: reward system.
4. The University of Queensland. (2017, May 18). What is neurogenesis?.
5. Freeman, C. R., Zehra, A., Ramirez, V., Wiers, C. E., Volkow, N. D., & Wang, G. J. (2018). Impact of sugar on the body, brain, and behavior. Frontiers in bioscience (Landmark edition), 23, 2255–2266.