It seems like the only thing our kids want to eat is sugar! They are bombarded by junk food commercials, birthday party cakes, and of course sugar-obsessed holidays like Halloween and Valentine’s Day. We have been warned by doctors and health professionals for years that added sugar can lead to health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, but did you know that sugar can also trigger anxiety?
How Sugar Causes Anxiety
Here are three science-backed reasons why sugar and anxiety are linked:
It Causes Anxiety-Like Symptoms
Similar to how caffeine affects our nervous system, sugar highs can contribute to symptoms that mimic a panic attack. Our kids can experience blurry vision, fatigue, difficulty thinking, and increased heart rate just from eating sugar. These symptoms can cause people who already suffer from anxiety to be even more worried and fearful, which in turn, worsens their symptoms.
It Messes With Blood Sugar Levels
The second way sugar affects mental health is that it contributes to depression and mood disorders due to the rise and crash of blood sugar levels. Furthermore, sugar suppresses BDNF, a hormone that is low in people with depression and other disorders. A study completed by the University of California Los Angeles showed that memory and learning was impaired by high sugar intake. This is because a high sugar diet causes insulin resistance, which damages the communication between the brain cells that control learning and memory. Furthermore, there is a significant connection between sugar and anxiety. A 2009 study of the diets of rats showed that rats that were fed a diet of sucrose (sugar) experience significantly more anxiety than the rats that were not fed sugar.
It Is Addictive
Believe it or not, there is a reason we can’t refuse a candy bar or piece of chocolate cake–we get hooked easily. Several scientific studies have shown that sugar has an opiate-like effect on the brain that makes it highly addictive. A study done at Yale University similarly showed that sugary foods stimulate the same reward centers in the brain as cocaine.
How Sugar Sneaks In When You Least Expect It
The worst part about the connection between sugar and anxiety is that it can sneak up on us. While primary sugar may be perfectly healthy when found in fruits, vegetables, and milk, secondary sugar is hidden in the foods you may serve your children. Did you know that salad dressing, yogurt, smoothies, and even “health” bars can be loaded with hidden added sugars?
While added sugars can be found in sweets and candies, 50 percent of our added sugar consumption comes from savory foods and 33 percent from beverages like juice. They are hidden even in foods marketed to children, such as toddler beverages and baby formula. The Food and Drug Administration was set to make food manufacturers change their labels to include the amount of added sugar in the nutrition facts by July 2018, but this change has been delayed indefinitely.
A Convenient Solution For Parents
So, what can parents do to track their child’s sugar intake? Fortunately, EChO – Eradicate Childhood Obesity Foundation, Inc. has developed an amazing app using augmented reality (AR) to inform consumers about how much added sugar is present in the food products they purchase. EChO is a not-for-profit, exclusively charitable foundation dedicated to ending childhood obesity. They provide health education, research, and access to nutrition care services, particularly to underserved communities and youth. They believe that proper nutrition education promotes better eating habits and a healthier lifestyle, which in turn can help the prevention and treatment of obesity.
The app, called SugAR Poke, is available in the App store and Google Play for demo. It scans the products on the grocery shelves and, using AR technology, superimposes a label on the screen to show how much added sugar is in the product. The bi-color coding used by SugAR Poke is simple: a GREEN label equals zero added sugar in a product and a BLACK label indicates there is added sugar and exactly how much.
The units used in SugAR Poke are teaspoons of added sugar, not grams. The number of teaspoons indicated is for the entire food package or bottle, not for a single serving size, which are much too small for the average consumer. For now, there are only salad dressings on the demo app, but with your help, EChO can add your favorite products through their Kickstarter campaign.
By using SugAR Poke, families have the opportunity to reduce their children’s sugar consumption, which will help lower their risk for health complications, like anxiety, that sugar can trigger.
How are you reducing your child’s sugar intake?