I’m sure you have heard the word homeostasis. What it means is that your body wants to stay balanced. Let’s talk about homeostasis as it relates to blood sugar. Your body wants to maintain a healthy amount of sugar in the blood to function (feed the muscles and the brain, and other cells in the body). It also has a point that is too high, and a point that is too low. We have hormones that help to lower the blood sugar when it’s high (insulin), and to raise it up when it’s low (glucagon). With the help of these hormones, your body can always bring the blood sugar back to that happy medium.
Now, let’s see how food effects that…
On a whole foods diet, free of refined sugars and processed food: Before breakfast, your blood sugar is below the midline (but not too low – glucagon has been working to keep it in a safe range), you eat, and then it rises above the midline. Because you are not eating any quick digesting sugars (let’s say steel cut oats with some unsweetened almond milk, cinnamon, chia seeds, and cacao beans), your blood sugar goes up slightly, but not through the roof. Insulin is sent out of the pancreas, and your blood sugar is brought back down. By lunch time, in the absence of food, your blood sugar drops below the midline again, you eat (maybe some salmon, broccoli, and some quinoa), and the cycle continues. This is the normal process and a healthy response to food.
On a diet full of sugar and refined carbs: Your child wakes up and you pour them a bowl of their favourite cereal (it’s all they’ll eat), and some 2% milk, maybe a glass of orange juice for vitamin C, and send them off to school. They arrive at school, disrupt the class in the morning because they are hyper, and then by mid morning, they start to zone out, not pay attention, and get a little bit cranky. (sound like ADHD?). Here is what is actually happening: The food they are eating in the morning is full of sugar and low in fibre, so their blood sugar spikes instantly, giving them that burst of energy and causing them to by hyper and perhaps anxious. Because the blood sugar has spiked higher than it should, your pancreas sends out a huge amount of insulin to recover from this, so much so that it brings your blood sugar down, lower than it should be. Now we are at the stage of tired, cranky, moody and unfocused behaviour. And, cravings! Not to worry, pizza lunch is coming right up with a side of sugar.. I mean, juice! More refined carbs, more sugar, and so the cycle continues. Up goes the blood sugar! This roller coaster of up-and-down blood sugar causes so much stress on the body, and all the symptoms that generally get diagnosed as things such as ADD, ADHD, Manic Depression and Bipolar disorder. (Isn’t it interesting that as our sugar intake increases, so does the incidence of ADD in children?)
After a while, the pancreas burns out and insulin stops being produced. Sugar stays in the blood for too long, and then you have type 2 diabetes, or insulin resistance. Now the blood sugar never goes down. It hovers around that ‘too high’ region constantly.
Another problem is that for every 1 teaspoon of sugar you intake, your white blood cell activity is suppressed for 4 hours! This is your immune system! So on top of the mood, behaviour and energy, your child is sick constantly, given that people are ingesting up to 33 teaspoons a day!
The moral of the story is, take your (and your child’s) health into your own hands. Manage their blood sugar with a diet made up of mainly whole foods, and very little, if any, refined or processed foods or drinks that have simple sugars like glucose and high fructose corn syrup. You can bet that their issues will dissipate.
Remember, however, if you are used to a diet high in sugars, it will take a while (and lots of resistance) to rectify the problem. Issues may even appear worse before they get better. Sugar is a drug (stimulates the same part of the brain that cocaine stimulates) and there WILL be withdrawal symptoms.
Take it one day at a time, and work towards a healthier diet for the whole family.