One minute he’s racing around the house. The next minute he’s crashed out on the couch. A toddler’s energy levels are naturally a bit like a roller coaster. It’s all fine and good when it leads to healthy exercise and sleep, but when things get too imbalanced, those energy swings can result in hyperactivity and tantrums. Not fun for kids. Even less fun for moms. Today we’re tackling the truth behind blood sugar levels and kid’s snacks that prevent energy spikes and crashes.
What is blood sugar?
It may sound like candy pulsing through your veins, but blood sugar is actually the concentration of glucose in your blood which is being pumped to your cells to give them energy. Too little glucose (aka “low blood sugar”) and you’ll feel hungry, weak, and maybe even dizzy. And, if you have too much glucose (aka “high blood sugar”), you might get very thirsty and tired. You might be thinking, “Wait a minute, I thought high sugar levels made my kids bounce off the ceiling, but now you’re saying fatigue is a symptom?”
Here’s what’s up. Unless you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic or have some other type of medical condition, your body does a pretty good job of maintaining the appropriate blood sugar levels — pumping out insulin when the levels are too high and drawing on reserves when the levels dip. When you notice foods or sweets having an impact on your child’s behavior, it’s more likely due to unique sensitivities and/or your child’s body fighting to keep the blood sugar in check.
Here’s how Dr. Carolyn Dean describes it:
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate found naturally in many foods, including fruits and grains. If the only sugar we consumed were in natural, whole foods, we’d all be just fine. But the average American diet is full of refined, nutrient-depleted foods and contains an average of 20 teaspoons of added, refined sugar every day.
Refined sugar…overworks the pancreas and adrenal glands as they struggle to keep the blood sugar levels in balance. When you eat sugar, it is quickly absorbed into your blood stream in the form of glucose. This puts your pancreas into overdrive, making insulin (which carries glucose to your cells to be used for energy) to normalize blood sugar levels. But this rapid release of insulin causes a sudden drop in blood sugar. In reaction to the falling blood sugar, excess adrenal cortisone is stimulated to raise blood sugar back to normal. A constantly high intake of simple dietary sugar keeps this roller coaster going and eventually overworks or “burns out” normal pancreas and adrenal function leading to early menopause, adult-onset diabetes, hypoglycemia, and chronic fatigue.
Is it only about sugar consumption?
It’s not just refined sugar that can cause internal mayhem. Refined flour, overly processed foods, and even certain types of special diets (like carb-free or high-protein) can, too. Ultimately, what this means is that a balanced diet that’s based on whole foods is really what’s best for most people. And, if you want to avoid spike and crashes in energy, you need a steady flow of these healthy foods all day long — especially “slower-burning” carbs (those with high fiber) like whole grains, vegetables, beans, and legumes.
High-fiber foods are not only more nutritious, they also contribute to the feeling of being full, which prevents overeating.
Think of your child’s snacks like “mini-meals” and try to include 2-3 food groups every 2-3 hours. Here are some very simple ideas:
cheese and whole grain crackers
banana and plain yogurt
whole grain pita and hummus
apples and cheese
string cheese wrapped in a turkey slice
oatmeal with raisins
smashed avocado with whole grain tortilla chips
bulgur with dried cranberries
lentils with chopped carrots
Mix things up and try new foods frequently. Toddlers are especially known for being choosy, but try, try, try, try, try again. Dr. Alan Greene’s book “Feeding Baby Green” has great advice for helping your toddler eat healthier.
Also, keep a diet journal to watch for foods that trigger upset tummies or erratic behavior. You never know just what might be causing the ups and downs and minor discomforts your child experiences. If you have any concerns, discuss them with your healthcare provider.
What have you found to be the best kid’s snacks that prevent energy spikes and crashes? Let us know in the comments, so other moms can try them, too!