17 May Nourishing Superheroes – Part 1

The Importance of Whole Food Nutrition for Kids

Australia has seen a rapid raise in health related issues in kids. 25% of children between 5 – 18 years old are now overweight or obese; we have seen a 73% increase in ADHD medication being prescribed since 2000 and almost 1 in 7 kids between 4 -17 years old are now assessed as having some form of mental health disorder such as ADHD, anxiety or depression.

It cannot be emphasised enough, that the focus for kid’s nutrition is to have tasty but nutrient dense meals. Kids bodies grow at a rapid rate. We need to make sure we nurture this growth and provide food with all the essential nutrients to support the complex biochemical growth mechanisms going on inside every cell of their body. This has been proven without doubt to help with their health, development, brain development and overall well-being.

Food With Poor Nutrition

Kids should not be relying on sugar, grains or other high carbohydrate foods to supply their energy needs or as their major source of foods to get their nutrition requirements. Although in general, kids can metabolise these types of foods better than adults, the bottom line is, these foods do not contain the vast array of wholesome nutrients that a growing body needs.

As a parent you need to be aware that health issues arising from poor nutrition do not arise overnight. In my practice, generally, I see a compounding effect of years of poor nutrition habits which then manifest itself in health issues such as obesity, mental health and behavioural disorders and overall kids not reaching their full superhero potential.

What about kids and sugar?

The World Health Organisation recommends no more than 3 teaspoons of added sugar per day for children. To put this into context, Australian kids are having much more than the recommended daily sugar allowance, as an example, boys age between 14 – 16 years old are now estimated to consume 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day.

Unfortunately it is very easy to consume added sugar. If kids are having toast and jam or cereal for breakfast with a juice or a low-fat yogurt as a snack, their daily intake of added sugar, will have almost been consumed by the time they leave for school. You wouldn’t put a bowl of sugar in front of your kids, but it has somehow become acceptable if it is hidden in a bowl of healthy looking muesli. Sometimes it can add up to 2 – 3 days worth of added sugars in one day. Check out how much sugar is in a popular “low fat” yogurt and fruit juice!

Yoghurt vs KitKatJuice vs Cherry Ripes

Kids are an easy target for companies that produce processed packaged foods. They use bright colours, gimmicks, sport and sports idols to sell you foods that are high in added sugar, grains and processed carbohydrates. They have teams of scientists working to ensure that the food they are making keeps kids hooked and wanting more.

Just while we are on the topic of sugar, here is a list of common names that food manufacturers might use to try and hide the fact that their product has added sugars.

Let us have a look at the ingredients of a popular breakfast cereal for kids, Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain.

Nutri-Grain ingredients list, and what they mean:

  • Cereals (49%)(wheat flour, oatmeal, maize flour – This is easily digestible carbohydrate and breaks down quickly into sugar during the digestive process.
  • Sugar This is an added sugar. It is also the second ingredient listed which means it is the second most abundant ingredient in this processed food.
  • Wheat protein – This is gluten.  Any children that are celiac or have a wheat sensitivity will react to this ingredient.
  • Maltodextrin – This is an added sugar.
  • Molasses – This is an added sugar.
  • Oat fiber – Grains are refined and fiber is removed, then they have to add fiber back in.
  • Salt, minerals (calcium carbonate, iron) – Added nutrients.
  • Barley malt extract – This is an added sugar.
  • Raising agent (potassium bicarbonate) – This makes the cereal puffy in texture.
  • Flavour – This only needs to be declared but the ingrediants or chemicals making up this flavour do not need to be labeled.
  • Natural colour (paprika, turmeric) – These are spices and are the most nutritious ingredient in this product!
  • Vitamins (vitamin C, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate) – Added nutrients.

If we look closely the second ingredient is sugar! There is a total of 4 different types of added sugar in this cereal, on top of  the easily digestible processed cereals that ultimately break down into sugar during the digestion process.

There are also numerous nutrients that have been added back into this breakfast cereal to try and give it some sort of value as a food item. Without these nutrients being added, then this breakfast cereal would offer no nutritional value at all.

Next time you buy cereal and it claims to be nutritious with vitamins and fibre, check the ingredients list to see if they have had to add these nutrients back in during processing.

In reality, this sort of breakfast cereal should not be in the breakfast aisle, but should be found in the confectionery aisle!

So What Happens When Kids Eat These Foods?

There are many ingredients that are likely to cause wild fluctuations with kid’s blood glucose levels in this type of breakfast cereal, mainly the sugar and cereal grain ingredients.

Take a look at the graph below which shows the what happens to blood sugar levels after eating such a food.  What we have is a very quick high and then an equally quick low in a very short period of time – this is the green dotted line. So what we get is the blood sugar and energy level roller coaster ride.

When the body has finished processing this quick burst of energy, we then see a slump in energy, which we commonly call a “sugar crash”.  As blood sugar levels start to drop, the body then releases adrenaline to help compensate for the reduce blood sugar levels. What we then see is:

  • Behaviour changes
  • Tiredness
  • Grumpiness
  • Inattention
  • Fidgety behaviour
  • Increases in anxiety levels


CHO Fat Protein Graph

When you think that the majority of kids eating pattern is breakfast, a snack in the morning, lunch, snack in the afternoon, dinner and then a sometimes a post-dinner snack, and if the majority of foods are based on these ingredients causing quick highs and lows, then kids will have a continuous cycle of energy peaks and troughs throughout the day.

Have you ever been told that your child has attention or behaviour issues at school? Perhaps it could be related to the breakdown of those foods causing quick highs and lows in both energy and moods.

Not only does this high/ crash cycle cause significant day to day issues for your kids, it also puts your kid’s bodies under significant stress at an early age, and more worryingly sets a pattern for high sugar consumption into adulthood. This then creates a perfect environment for poor nutritional habits as an adult and significantly increases the risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. I’ll be covering in depth Type 2 diabetes in a separate news bulletin.

So What Can I Start to Change?

If you suspect food may be having an impact on your child’s behavior, then it’s a good idea to start tracking food intake and how they effect mood.

To help you with this,  I have included a very simple “Mood & Food Diary” suitable for both kids and adults. All you need to do is simply download, print and the track what food is being eaten and take note of any mood or behaviour changes by ticking a smiley face, grumpy face or sad face.

Download Food & Mood Diary Here ===> Food & Mood Diary

A documentary that everyone should watch is “That Sugar Film”. It is an eye opening documentary filmed in a very entertaining way highlighting the dangers of sugar in our diet and how sugar is hidden in many foods. This movie can be bought or rented via iTunes or it is available through Netflix (for those that don’t have Netflix, they offer a 1 month free trial).

Part 2 – Nourishing Superheros coming soon.
I ‘ll be covering how to start making the important changes and how to transition to eating nutrient dense whole foods.