In the media, we are constantly hearing all sorts of conflicting news about the benefits of this food and the evils of that food. Different studies suggesting conflicting conclusions and the overall opinions and consensus changing from week to week. But the one notion that most experts agree upon and that has remained pretty constant over the last few years is that sugar is not good for us. And here’s why.
The long term health effects of a diet consistently high in sugar are widespread, from obesity, diabetes and fatty liver to premature ageing, compromised brain health and an unhappy digestive system.
But some of the effects of sugar on your body are immediate and may be affecting your daily function. Here are some of the ways in which sugar could be impacting your daily resources and wellbeing:
When we have a food or meal that makes our blood sugars spike, the pancreas releases insulin in order to get all that sugar into our cells so it can be used up – this leads to a crash in the levels of our blood sugar, soon after the high. As we need level amounts of sugar in our blood to allow our cells to produce energy, an insufficient amount of this will lead to dips in energy. A very common sign that this is taking place is that post-lunch energy dip … you know, the one where you just want to fall asleep at your desk?
Sugar may be affecting your kids’ energy as well, albeit in quite a different way. Small children are particularly susceptible to sugar spike highs. Yes indeed, that time when the kids were running around chasing each other and screaming in high-pitched voices for what seemed like an eternity may have had something to do with the cookies they ate not long before!
There are three main mechanisms through which this can occur:
- High sugar intake leads – as I mentioned above – to the release of insulin and chronic levels of high insulin in the blood causes the energy from foods to deposit into fat cells.
- Furthermore, when we eat a diet high in sugar, because our blood sugars keep dropping below a threshold of balance and our body needs more energy. This means it will ask for more food, so on a high sugar diet we are much more likely to eat more overall.
- Sugar has also been found to trigger reward center in the brain similar to those activated in addictions and can therefore be addictive, leading again to a chronic aspect of sugar intake likely to encourage piling on some pounds. Excess weight is not conducive to long-term health and can also affect our daily activities in terms of how agile we feel and protecting our joints from injury. So if you are running around with prams and carrying babies or small children here there and everywhere, it is unlikely to help.
One of the cascades of events that takes place in our body when our blood sugars dip too low (which can occur regularly as the result of a diet high in sugar) is that our adrenal glands release the hormone known as cortisol. And this is why: cortisol is one of our main stress hormones, which plays an important role in our “fight or flight” response, i.e. the stress response we have when faced with a threat. From an evolutionary point of view, when faced with a saber tooth tiger we would need to either fight it with all our strength or run for our lives. One of cortisol’s functions is to draw sugar reserves from our liver and our muscles into blood circulation so that we can use it as energy to fight or to run. Therefore, our clever bodies will release this hormone when it registers that blood sugar is too low. The end result is having regular release of stress hormones in our system – which, let’s face it – few people need more of in a busy parenting life!
Anyone who is sleep deprived is well aware of the crucial importance of sleep for our overall sense of wellbeing and daily functioning. Parents of younger children tend to get less sleep than average, so really we want to be optimising the quality and chances of good sleep wherever possible. The very mechanism described above with regards to cortisol release is one that can affect the quality of our sleep as well. Having a high sugar diet and consuming foods that spike our blood sugars in the evenings before bed can increase our chances of waking up in the night due to a cortisol spike brought on by our sugars dipping low. The pattern of our cortisol production is in part responsible for our sleep-wake cycle. We are designed to produce less and less cortisol approaching nighttime, and then have a spike of it in the morning which is what wakes us up. But sugar can disrupt this pattern, causing the wake up spike to happen earlier in the night, regardless of whether there is a baby crying or a little loved one telling us they’ve had a nightmare.
Ever experienced brain fog? That feeling of not being able to concentrate or focus, feeling forgetful or not as sharp as you normally are? Struggling to formulate complete thoughts or critically analyse? There are a number of reasons this can come about, and unbalanced blood sugars is one of them. The reason for this being that brain cells need sugar more than any other cell type in the body. The brain runs very effectively on glucose, which means it is also very sensitive to fluctuations in the levels of glucose available to it. So this is yet another way those pesky blood sugar spikes and crashes can affect our function. As a single parent, chances are you need your brain in tip-top shape to handle the multitasking and fast-acting problem solving that daily life requires of you.
Hanger anyone? I love that word; it perfectly encapsulates the irritability resulting from your brain being physiologically hungry! Again, when those blood sugars are too low your brain will feel it, not just in the sense of not having the energy it needs to perform the functions you need it for (such as focus, concentration and thinking skills), but also in terms of mood. One of the effects sugar has on the brain is that it causes a surge in the neurotransmitter serotonin, a feel-good chemical in our brains. Following the surge, it also crashes along with blood sugar, creating the potential for a mood swing. Not only that, but when the brain is constantly experiencing serotonin spikes from sugar highs, over time this can deplete our reserves of this important neurotransmitter. Therefore, life is definitely more enjoyable and happy with balanced blood sugars, and happy parents make for happy children 🙂
I hope you are inspired to reduce the amount of sugar you have throughout your day for increased physical and emotional well-being and also to support the wellbeing of your children. For some tips on how to keep your blood sugars balanced, please visit my website www.nurturebyfran.co.uk