Inflammation in kids 101: Sugar and Inflammation Connection



Children’s Health: Sugar and Inflammation

Image of Dr. Kelly O'Hara, a dentist in Lincoln, NE, with children at her Lincoln Dental Clinic.

The Connection between High Sugar Diets and Inflammation in Kids

Inflammation and sugar intake are closely related in kids due to over-consumption of sugar in the average child’s daily diet. Inflammation due to sugar may be responsible for more health problems in our children than we realize. Research is showing that a slew of children’s health problems could be linked to inflammation. These include dental caries, allergies, asthma, eczema, behavioral problems, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, premature aging and much more.

Image of a young child wondering what inflammation is. Our dentist in Lincoln, NE can help!

Inflammation itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s simply our body’s way of responding to stress or foreign particles. The problem is that when this response becomes chronic or long-term, it can cause severe damage to our bodies. You may be wondering what this information has to do with your child(ren). It is proven that there is a strong connection between a child’s diet, their digestive system, and inflammation. As a result, chronic low-grade inflammation related to high amounts of sugar can lead to multiple health problems.

Cookies, ice cream, and candy are popular treats and are obvious sources of sugar. As a caregiver, you probably already know that sugar is bad for your kids’ teeth. But did you know that most of the sugars children consume come from hidden sugar calories? At the end of the day, the amount of sugar our kids consume tends to be so high that it leads to inflammation in their bodies.

Read more on the negative effects of sugar here:

Image of a young child by a stack of food containing sugar. Our dentist in Lincoln, NE knows that sugar can be a source of inflammation in children.

How much sugar is too much for kids? Sugar and Inflammation….

In 2009, the American Heart Association (AHA) published new guidelines regarding limits on the amount of added sugar that is acceptable for a healthy diet. Depending on a child’s daily calorie consumption, children should consume no more than 3 to 8 teaspoons of added sugar per day.

Another study by the AHA established that children as young as 1 to 3 years old are already consuming about 12 teaspoons of sugar per day, and older children are consuming even more due to hidden sugars in their diets.

Read more about inflammation from Harvard Medical School

How does high sugar consumption harm the body?

A cycle of high and low blood sugar makes your pancreas and liver work extra hard, leading to other, more serious illnesses.

Sugars, particularly refined and processed sugars, contribute to inflammation in less healthy ways than the bodies typical inflammation response. To break it down, the natural balance in your stomach and digestive system are impacted by these sugars. High consumption of sugars causes a sharp spike in blood sugar, causing the body to produce more insulin than necessary. This leads to a sugar crash which brings the blood sugar level back down. Then, intense hunger and cravings for carbohydrates and more sugars occur to raise the blood sugar levels back up. This extreme hunger usually leads to another large sugar intake, causing the whole cycle to repeat itself.

Each time this process occurs, an individual’s pancreas is overstimulated to keep up with the constant changes. The liver also works in overdrive to process significant amounts of sugar. Over time, high sugar intake can cause insulin resistance, which is a precursor to diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

High blood sugar also promotes the production of advanced glycation end products or AGEs. AGEs are inflammatory compounds that form when excess protein and sugar bind together. These compounds lead to weight gain and obesity amongst children.

Image of a young girl eating a sucker. Candy contains sugar which can be a source of inflammation in children. Our dentist in Lincoln, NE can help you identify sources of hidden sugar.

Sugar is hard on the bacteria that protects our digestive tract.

Lastly, the body’s microbiome is made up of trillions of good bacteria that digest food, produce vitamins and protect it from germs and disease. Excessive amounts of sugar disturb the work of these bacteria which leads to a weakened immune system and GI problems.

Sugar is bad for your teeth and mouth.

Many conditions are affected by excessive sugar in kids’ diets. Added sugar contains no essential nutrients and is bad for a child’s teeth. Besides toothaches, sugar can cause tooth decay by feeding the harmful bacteria in a child’s mouth. If a child is snacking throughout the day on sugary substances or foods high in acid, the teeth will be very prone to cavities. Seeing a family and children’s dentist in Lincoln, NE regularly is vital to your child’s oral and overall health.

Sugar is devoid of nutrients.

Sugar also has a high-calorie count. Besides being a poor source of nutrients for your teeth, it’s also a poor source of nutrients in general. Within the health field, sugar is referred to as an “anti-nutrient” because the process of metabolizing sugar requires nutrients that we need elsewhere in our immune system and our bodies. Vitamin B complex and zinc are both critical for a well-functioning immune system, and our bodies utilize both when metabolizing sugar, robbing our immune system of their benefits and preventing optimal body functioning.

Sugar affects kid’s skin

When increased inflammation occurs, our bodies become prone to cracked skin, redness, sagging skin, and eczema. It is also known to affect the ability of the skin to self-repair, which accelerates the appearance of aging on the skin. The more sugar one consumes, the more AGEs your body will try and fight with antibodies, increasing the overall amount of inflammation. Other related skin conditions include acne, itchiness, and rosacea. In short, the more sugar you consume, the faster your skin will age.

Diets full of sugar contribute to symptoms of colds and sinus infections.

Congestion, stuffy noses, coughing, chronic runny noses, and other common allergy symptoms can all be present. Many kids experience allergy-like symptoms without any formal testing, when in fact, these symptoms are often a result of excessive sugar consumption.

According to Dr. William Sears, a diet high in simple sugars depresses immunity and decreases the ability of white blood cells to engulf bacteria by 50%.

Due to the overall negative effects of diets high in sugar, any “Lincoln dentist near me,” at Nebraska Family Dentistry, participates in the Candy Buy Back Program every year. This program has one goal -to help kids in Lincoln community to be healthier by avoiding eating massive amounts of Halloween candy.

What are the most common hidden sources of sugar in a child’s everyday diet?

Image of bubbles in milk. Surprisingly, milk can be a hidden source of sugar for children. Ask our dentist in Lincoln, NE if you have questions about ways to identify hidden sources of sugar, which can cause inflammation.
  • Yogurt
  • Milk
  • Sports Drinks
  • Juices
  • Cereals
  • Bread
  • Chicken Nuggets
  • Canned Fruit
  • Noodles
  • Pop Tarts

How can I know if certain foods have hidden sugars in them?

Checking the nutrition facts and ingredients labels is always a good idea! Look for the following hidden sources of sugar in your child’s foods:

Image of a sugar cube. Our dentist in Lincoln, NE wants you to be aware of all forms of sugar including added sugars as well as those that are "hidden".
  • Mean Table Sugar
  • Brown Sugar
  • Raw Sugar
  • Turbinado Sugar
  • Honey (even if it’s raw!)
  • Maple Sugar
  • Corn Sweetener
  • Dextrose, Glucose, Fructose, anything else ending in “-ose
  • Barley Malt
  • Rice Syrup
  • Liquid Cane Sugar
  • Concentrated Fruit Juice

Another Important Tip:

Don’t be fooled by the title “organic” when it comes to sugar. Sugar is sugar, whether organic or not. All of the above names are different sugars, and all of these will cause the inflammatory effects of sugar when consumed in large quantities.

Image of almonds, cashews, and walnuts. Nuts are a great source of good fat and can help with inflammation. Ask your dentist in Lincoln, NE for tips about eating healthy.

What are great ways to cut down on sugar intake and ultimately inflammation?

Image of Greek yogurt cups. Eating healthy to include fresh fruit, vegetables, and fish can help control inflammation. Ask your dentist in Lincoln, NE for tips regarding eating healthy.

The following foods help heal inflammation according to Dr. Weil:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fish
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Herbs/Spices
  • Beans
Image of Greek yogurt. Eating properly is vital to your child's health not only for great nutrition but to control inflammation. Our dentist in Lincoln, NE has tips for eating healthy.

Here are some other tips for cutting sugar out of a child’s diet:

  • When baking, use sugar-free applesauce as a substitute for sugar.
  • Try fresh fruit, almond butter, or peanut butter as an alternative to syrup.
  • Try plain Greek yogurt in place of flavored yogurts and ice cream. To sweeten it up, add frozen fruit!
  • Avoid drinking juice, smoothies, and sports drinks.
  • Consider using vanilla extract, cinnamon, and nutmeg in place of honey and agave.
  • Consider packing your child’s lunch for school, so you know exactly what they are getting.

Finding A Balance, and Preventing Sugar – Induced Inflammation

Sugar doesn’t have much in the way of nutrition to offer to our children. When sugar is not kept within moderation, the immune system, nutrition, and even brain chemistry suffer. In children, this is of particular concern because their bodies and brains are small and still in development. We may not always be able to avoid cookies and cake at parties, but we don’t need to! Finding balance is the key.

Sweet treats are a part of life and should be enjoyed on occasion. If the bulk of a child’s diet is full of real, unrefined, whole, and unprocessed foods, parents have no need to worry about the occasional birthday party. If you have questions, our team of gentle dentists in Lincoln, NE, at Lincoln Family Dentistry, part of Nebraska Family Dentistry, would love to help!

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