Sugar hooks kids’ brains and bodies, study finds

In light of Drug Awareness Week, marked until Thursday June 30, Riverside College, Burgundy Estate, ran a class experiment to measure pupils’ performance and concentration before and after consuming sugar.

“Learners’ results were best before consuming any sugar. Their behaviour became unpredictable shortly after eating sweets, and their concentration levels dipped,” said Lynne Arbuckle, primary school principal at Riverside College.

In a statement, the college said studies had shown that sugar did not directly produce hyperactivity, but changes in blood sugar levels affected the release of adrenaline, causing changes in behaviour and performance.

“Parents hold a big responsibility for how and what their children eat. Introduce healthy snacks at home, limit take-away meals and fizzy drinks. Not only will your child perform better at school but home life will be easier too – your child’s moods won’t fluctuate based on their cravings,” said Ms Arbuckle.

There are several things you can do to reduce cravings:

* Avoid unpredictable meal times: kids are more likely to snack on high-sugar foods when their bodies are accustomed to stocking up in case their next meal does not arrive on time.

* Boost up at breakfast: a wholesome, low-sugar breakfast is key to performance at school. Low-GI and high-protein breakfasts are great energy boosters that do not require sugar.

* Mix it up: blend plain yoghurt into your kids’ favourite flavoured (and sweetened) ones, switch chocolate spread for peanut butter and experiment with flavouring plain treats yourself (with raw cocoa and cinnamon, for example).

How sugar affects behaviour:

* Sugar causes a fluctuation of key hormones in the blood. About four hours after eating, blood-sugar levels drop and adrenaline kicks in, which drives the urge to eat again. Children are very susceptible to changes in behaviour linked to this hormone, including impulsivity and reduced concentration. Low-GI meals have been shown to reduce the intensity of these changes in blood-sugar levels, while sugary ones make them more pronounced.

How sugar becomes addictive

* Neurochemical studies have shown that sugar has the same effect on the brain as cocaine – manifesting in sugar tolerance and withdrawal. Sugar impacts the reward systems in the brain – consumption of too much refined sugar over time numbs the receptors of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is key to satisfaction. Reduced sensitivity produces sugar tolerance; where more and more sugar is required to reach the same “high”.

When sugar cravings are not met, withdrawal is experienced.