Avoiding the crash
Understanding and stopping the ups and downs of the dreaded sugar rush
We’ve all seen kids experience a burst of sugar- fuelled energy followed by a crash a short while later. In a classroom, that crash can cause a lack of focus, which will prevent the student from soaking up the lessons.
We have a vague idea of the causes, but many of us aren’t aware of simple prevention strategies.
Cutting out processed foods might seem daunting, but it’s not as hard as you think. Danielle Turk, a Toronto-based nutritionist and metabolic life coach, shares a simple rule for identifying healthier options: If it’s made by nature, it’s probably low in sugar; if it’s made in a factory and has a label, it’s processed and high in sugar.
“When you eat processed, refined foods, they raise blood sugar levels above normal range, and then you get that rollercoaster kind of reaction,” says Turk.“Your sugar levels actually dip even lower than normal, and that is a sugar crash.”
It’s tough to know if you’re buying healthy. “Parents are generally well-intentioned,” says Elke Sengmueller, a GTA-based registered dietitian. “The problem is that marketers can be pretty clever and fool parents into thinking they’re providing something on the healthier end, when it isn’t.”
“If cereal has got ground up whole grains mixed with cornstarch, it’s quite different than if you were to eat steel- cut oatmeal,” says Turk.
The dairy aisle offers another example. “Yogurt in itself is an excellent food. The problem is they have taken yogurt and added a lot of stuff,” she says. “Sometimes it’s potato starch, sometimes it’s cornstarch, sometimes it’s dextrose and different forms of sugar.”
Beverages that seem healthy can also be a problem. “Juices that come in a package are highly processed, packed full of sugar and have negligible vitamins and minerals,” says Greg Wells, assistant professor of kinesiology and physical education at the University of Toronto.
Sports drinks are full of salt and sugar, so it’s better to eat high– water content foods to rehydrate.
Sengmueller recommends incorporating multiple food groups: “If we have something in our gut to slow that absorption down, like a fat or protein or another nutrient, we don’t get that sugar peak and crash quite as dramatically.”
With the return of the school year, it can be daunting for kids to navigate the school cafeteria. “These days, most cafeterias will have some healthier choices,” notes leading health expert Rose Reisman. “But more often than not, your children will be attracted to the unhealthier options that are either loaded with fat, salt or sugar.”
Easy things for kids to avoid in the caf include sandwiches made with white bread and processed deli meats such as salami or bologna. Reisman suggests tucking into wraps that boast roasted meats (turkey or chicken) instead. Veggies and real cheese slices are always great options, and kids need not shy away from hummus, pesto or mustard when it comes to add-ons. Pizza is always hard to resist, especially when peers are tucking in. Kids should avoid pepperoni or stuffed crust, instead reaching for chicken and veg toppings.
Reisman’s catering company has launched an elementary school lunch program for time-pressed parents, serving up healthy kidfriendly meals.
Ultimately, it’s possible to avoid the sugar crash by providing a healthy balanced diet for your child.