How Does Sugar Affect Toddlers

How Does Sugar Affect Toddlers

Being a first time mom always brings with it many questions and decisions you have to make. As a nurse I am asked many of the questions every day. These questions can range from “how do I change my newborn’s diaper” to “how do I know if my teenager is experimenting with drugs” and everything in between.

The biggest question usually comes around the baby’s first birthday. Parents want to do the traditional “smash cake”, but at the same time they worry about giving them sugar and the effects sugar will have on on their behavior.

When do kids start having sugar and when should they start having sugar?

Surprisingly, pediatricians believe that sugar can have a place in a healthy diet in children, but children are being exposed to these foods a lot earlier than they should be. A recent study of 3,000 infants and toddlers found that almost half of 7- to 8- month olds are already consuming sugary drinks and snacks. At this age, children should be focusing on trying new healthy foods and drinking only formula, breast milk, water, or watered down fruit juices. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests no fruit juice before six months of age, no more than 6 ounces of juice between six months and six years of age, and no more than 12 ounces for children over six years.

Will withholding sugar create a sensitivity?

Although I cannot find any actual research on this subject, I have been able to find a lot of opinions. I have some personal opinions and I have heard opinions from other moms. There are no mothers who have stated they feel their child is sensitive to sugar.

Personally, I was not allowed to eat sugar when I was younger, and because of that now I struggle with being able to eat sugary foods in moderation. I have known people who have the opposite problem. In other words, they were given sugary treats as a sign of love and affection, so they too have issues with self control. As for my own daughter, she doesn’t get sweets that often, and she actually prefers fruits and vegetables over anything else. I have heard other mothers say similar things. In fact, just this past Thanksgiving, I gave her a brownie, but left her other food on her tray. She would take a bite of brownie, then a couple of bites of vegetables.  My daughter does like her brownies, but she still prefers healthy foods, which is a win in my book.

How does sugar affect my child’s health?


Sugar can have an impact on your child’s health when not given in moderation. Although sugar doesn’t cause cavities, it does facilitate increased bacterial growth and this is why doctors suggest you don’t put babies to sleep with a bottle or juice at night, but water is just fine. Many parents worry about behavioral problems, such as hyperactivity, with sugar, and although every child is different and some may have issues, this has been proven to be a myth (see next point). Sugary drinks and foods contain empty calories, meaning you have to eat more to feel full. This causes children to eat more calories than they are burning, which can cause obesity. Along with obesity comes the risk of diabetes, which is a lifelong disease. This occurs because the body becomes resistant to the insulin that is produced after eating a sugary food.

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Does sugar really make kids hyper?

There have been numerous studies that show sugar does not cause hyperactivity. We actually use sugar water for pain control and soothing in newborns and infants. It has been shown that the sugar water temporarily increases calming neurotoxins.

This is not saying you are not noticing changes in your child’s mood after a birthday party or a sugary snack. The reason is, when she eats a lot of sugar her body produces insulin to control the high sugar, causing a quick drop in blood sugar. This quick drop can cause your child to feel shaky and sluggish, and cause her to crave more sugar. This causes a vicious cycle of highs and lows. This is not always the case with every child, but if you notice that this is the case with your child, you can help prevent them. You can control the amount of sugar your child has at one time. You can choose snacks low in sugar and dilute fruit juices. Also, making your child have a healthy snack with the sugar (proteins such as nuts and cheese, and fiber such as fruits and vegetables) can help slow the dramatic highs and lows.

What is the real definition of moderation?

Issues tend to arise in health when children have too much sugar too often. Sugary foods are often full of empty calories so they do not fill the child up, and sometimes parents even use sugary foods as a replacement for healthy snacks. Using sugar in moderation can help your child to eat a healthier diet.

Desserts can be used as a once in awhile treat, such as once a week. Sugar can even help children eat healthier. Studies have shown that adding a teaspoon of sugar to a serving of whole grain cereal such as oatmeal made a difference in whether or not the child liked it, but did not have a significant impact on blood sugar. Giving kids sugar in moderation can even help them learn to control their eating habits later in life by showing them they can have sugar and enjoy it without overindulging.

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Article By Cassie
a pediatric, labor and delivery, and women’s health nurse.

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