October 31 is upon us. The shops have had their Hallowe’en wares on display for weeks now, and the children are beginning to make their plans for costumes and trick-or-treat destinations. Heaven help us parents, grandparents, and teachers alike! Hallowe’en is a wonderful time for people of all ages to indulge in the luxury of just plain fun. October 31, or All Hallows’ Eve, gives us a legitimate excuse to dress in costume and pretend to be something we are not. Even the Appleton boys, well into their 20s, celebrate the occasion with some highly creative costuming, and perhaps a little tipping of the elbow along Richmond Row in London. And now to the children. Hallowe’en is perhaps even more exciting than Christmas to some! Turning out the lights and listening to a scary (but not too scary) ghost story, dressing up as their favourite character and wearing the costume at school, going out for trick-or-treat and bringing home all that candy! All that candy can often present problems for the most diligent and organized parents. Perhaps we worry too much about the amount of sugar that our children consume at this spooky time of year.
Sugar and hyperactivity Sugar has had a bad rap for decades. It seems to have begun back in the ‘70s when the Feingold Diet proclaimed that food additives were the main culprits in contributing to hyperactive behaviour in children. Certain food colourings and preservatives can certainly cause erratic behaviour, but is sugar also responsible for the same actions? According to some studies in the 1990s, sugar does not affect behaviour. Let us not forget that sugar is a natural product; its source is either sugar cane or sugar beets. The fact that it is refined simply makes it more readily absorbed into the blood. However, this may not mean that a child is going to behave in a hyperactive manner. When children finish dessert and finally get to leave the table after a family gathering, all the running and expending of pent-up energy may be simply that they have been sitting too long. The sweet dessert takes the blame for the ensuing behaviour. One study explained that a group was given foods containing real refined sugars and the other group was given a placebo (no sugar ingredients). Both groups consistently reported hyper behaviour after the consumption of the foods. The conclusion was that the placebo group of parents had the expectation that their children would be hyper and that expectation influenced how they interpreted what they saw.
Caffeine, chocolate and cola Cola beverages, hot chocolate, chocolate bars, etc. not only contain high levels of refined sugar, but also high levels of caffeine. The latter is the more likely culprit for any hyperactivity following consumption. Kids often associate soda beverages with a party atmosphere and will act accordingly. In support of this theory, I have seen many groups of very hyper children in a social situation who have not consumed any sugars at all.
Tips for Hallowe’en Survival You can either suffer through your child eating their Hallowe’en candy within the first few days, or you can have them ration it into Zip-loc bags and stretch it out over a longer period of time. Either way, they are not getting enough of the right kind of foods if the focus is on the sweets. Your dentist would likely rather that they eat it all at once. That way they will not be subjecting their teeth to multiple acid/sugar attacks which could result in many more cavities. Having it over and done with, then brushing well, is better for their teeth.
The Bottom Line When all is said and done, children should be eating a balanced diet and consuming only a small percentage of refined sugars. While the sugar may not be responsible for the hyperactivity, it is most certainly responsible for much of the obesity, diabetes and heart disease so prevalent in our society today. Happy Hallowe’en!