Many parents can relate to the following behavior episodes from their youngsters: sobbing uncontrollably, refusal to cooperate, frustration at the tiniest irritation, inability to make up their mind about what they need or want and when questioned about what is wrong, they have no answer.
No, I’m not talking about hormonal teenagers. I’m talking about the hypoglycemic toddler.
So many new parents are baffled as to why and how their happy, tiny human becomes a ball of overflowing emotion in a matter of moments. Sooner or later many parents realize that the moods of a toddler are greatly influenced by their blood sugar levels. We learn to structure every day around goal number one: avoid mood swing scenario. Check out this video The Food Hospital did on refined sugar and behavior in children.
We’ve all experienced the symptoms of low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia: irritability or crankiness, cravings, tiredness, rapid heart rate, weakness, dizziness, headaches, and shakiness. Many of us have also learned how to identify these symptoms in a spouse or best friend and diagnose the problem as “hangry” (hungry and angry). Since our toddlers may not be able to verbalize or even identify hunger yet, parents are often blindsided by a sudden onset of stark-raving-mad toddler. The key to keeping your child’s blood sugar at steady levels and avoiding hypoglycemic, “crazy child” is staying aware of the child’s eating schedule and being prepared.
So what causes a toddler’s blood sugar to suddenly drop to “crazy” levels? There are two possibilities: it has been too long since their last meal (about 4 hours). The other reason is their blood sugar was spiked by consuming refined carbohydrates, sugary treats, or soda a couple hours ago and now the spike is falling rapidly.
Here’s the biological explanation according to Dr. Laura Thompson:
“Refined and sugar foods cause a swift release of insulin from the pancreas. This results in a speedy delivery of glucose to the brain and muscles, creating an energy surge or “high”. However, when the glucose leaves the bloodstream so fast, the body then “crashes” with a “low”. Such is the balance of nature.”
So back to strategies for dodging that crazy toddler. I would recommend staying away from refined carbohydrates as much as possible. Cereal for breakfast, for example, is not going to set your day up for success. Most cereals are made with refined grains and loaded with sugar. I try to plan meals with a good balance of macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fat. Make sure your carbohydrates are the high quality kind with fiber, not the high sugar kind. I usually give my toddlers a breakfast loaded with protein and good fats and some low-glycemic carbohydrates:
- smoothie with plenty of organic plain yogurt, avocado, spinach and fibrous, low-sugar fruits.
- scrambled eggs with coconut oil, nitrate/ite free bacon and made-from scratch, whole grain or gluten-free toast, pancakes or waffles. A tiny bit of maple syrup won’t spike their blood sugar too bad and has trace minerals that high-fructose corn syrup imitations won’t.
- oatmeal sweetened with honey and nuts and dried fruit
- avoid fruit juices or at least water them down considerably
- ground turkey patties with sage and sautéed potatoes or yams
Giving your toddler healthy meals at good time intervals is easier when you’re at home. Taking your toddler away from your home can be risky if you don’t keep snacks with you. You never know when a 20 minute line at the DMV will turn into 45 minutes. A crash on the freeway can turn a 10 minute commute to the aquarium into an hour-long road trip. The trick is providing something to eat before the symptoms of hypoglycemia send your child into a tailspin. This does not mean feed your children around the clock. Just make sure you’re keeping an eye on the time and make note of when they last ate. Most children should have something to eat around every three hours. Always be prepared with ready-to-eat, smart snacks on hand no matter where you are. Ready-to-eat does not mean packaged, processed granola bars, fruit snacks, crackers, cookies, or yogurt.
You may be thinking, “Then what are ready-to-eat, smart snacks, Health Coach?” The first tip is always to be thinking about real food. And a good tip for keeping the balance of nature that I use is this: think protein and fiber. I use this one not just for my kids, but for myself. Protein takes longer to break down and deliver to the cells for energy and usually has some energy-ready, healthy fat to go with it. Fiber slows down the breakdown of carbohydrates so they aren’t delivered to the blood stream so quickly.
Here’s some examples:
- string cheese and an apple (or individually packaged organic applesauce if your toddler can’t chew an apple yet)
- apples or celery and nut butter
- carrots and hummus
- nuts are great on the go and keep well in the car or purse
- home-made trail mix sans the M&M’s
- oranges and organic popcorn, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds
Yes, sometimes our children are involved in social activities like birthday parties in which sugary foods will be present. But if you can limit their intake of the birthday cake or pair it with some protein and fiber, you’ll hopefully avoid meeting the Party Pooper in the backseat on the way home. Also, be aware that artificial food dyes have been linked to behavior problems in young children, so maybe avoid the frosting and pray for white cake. Take the initiative and bring dye-free sweet treats for party favors to share.
Now you’re thinking, “But coach, what if my child does have too much sugar and we are in the middle of a ‘crazy toddler’ episode and s/he refuses to eat?” Well, I would say get some fruit juice in their tummy as quickly as you can. Nothing else is going to work. No form of reasoning, discipline or threat is going to snap a manic toddler out of a tantrum. Once you get some juice in them and they start calming down though, think protein and fiber. Lastly, if you’re child hasn’t binged on sugar and recently had a balanced meal and is still losing their mind, for the child’s sake, for the sake of the other shoppers/diners, take them home and put them to bed.
P.S. This is more important than a post script. If you child has behavior problems that seem unconnected with their blood sugar level or sleep patterns, they may have gut health problems like Leaky Gut Syndrome. This should be evaluated by a naturopathic doctor and treated accordingly.
All information is intended only to help you cooperate with your doctor, in your efforts toward desirable weight levels and health. In addition to regular check ups and medical supervision, from your doctor, before starting any other weight loss program, you should consult with your personal physician.
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